East St. Louis Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton admitted that he spent $40,000 on personal expenses on a publicly-supported credit card and pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis Thursday morning to federal wire fraud charges.
He was ordered by a federal judge to turn over that credit card and relinquish any control over township bank accounts on Thursday in exchange for his freedom until sentencing on March 1.
U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan asked whether Hamilton would resign his position as supervisor and was told he would resign at the next board meeting. Reagan also ordered Hamilton to resign from the St. Clair County Board and East Side Health District. As part of the deal, Hamilton is barred from being employed by any government entity, including federal, state, city or township positions.
A BND investigation found that Hamilton spent more than $230,000 on the no-limit American Express card from January 2012 to June 2016. The investigation showed that Hamilton used the credit card to pay for trips to Las Vegas and elsewhere; thousands of dollars in gasoline for his Chevy Silverado pickup; more than $3,000 for car washes, detailing and oil changes; flowers and gifts for political allies, restaurant tabs and other purchases.
The card also was used to buy building materials, such as paint, drywall, lumber, cabinetry, power tools, tractor tires, locks, nails and bathroom fixtures. Hamilton is the owner of Hamilton Construction. Because the purchases were made with a township credit card, they were all exempt from state sales taxes.
“He entered the plea with the contrition he should have had. He’s ashamed of himself and hopes to redeem himself someday,” Hamilton’s attorney Clyde Kuehn said after the hearing. “This is a case of a thousand cuts. Little things.”
In doing so, Hamilton deprived some of the poorest citizens in the state of money intended to help them and used it instead for his own personal gain, prosecutors said.
“The government’s position was to move as quickly as possible to take him out of office,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Norm Smith.
Reagan told Hamilton he could face up to 20 years in prison, followed by three years of parole and a $250,000 fine. The sentencing guidelines call for a year to 18 months, but Reagan said he could go higher or lower at his discretion. Both sides recommended to the judge that Hamilton be sentenced to a year and a day.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to you,” Reagan said.
Hamilton, 62, was charged earlier this month. He waived indictment and announced his intent to plead guilty.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to you.
U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan to Oliver Hamilton
The BND investigation found no evidence that Hamilton repaid any of the money the township, although Hamilton told reporters he had reimbursed taxpayers for personal purchases. However, the charges stated that Hamilton “misrepresented the use of public funds was for legitimate public purposes.”
The federal investigation into Hamilton’s spending followed the News-Democrat’s investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Norm Smith and U.S. Attorney Donald Boyce signed the criminal information.
Hamilton pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. There is no specific amount of restitution listed in the plea agreement because prosecutors said while it appears that hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on this credit card, some of the purchases may have been legitimate expenses. Probation officers will meet with Hamilton to go over the purchases to determine restitution.
Reagan said he was uncertain whether he would agree to keep Hamilton in office until he is sentenced. But Hamilton said he plans to resign at the next board meeting, next week. Hamilton told the judge he would like to be allowed to take care of the things he does over the holidays. He agreed to turn over the township credit card he abused and take his name off the township bank accounts.
Hamilton, a Democrat, has been the township supervisor since March 2011. He also represents East St. Louis on the St. Clair County Board. He said he would resign from the County Board and East Side Health District board, too.
The township’s and city’s borders share a border. In an area where 47 percent of the residents live below the federal poverty line, the township’s only mission is to provide assistance to the underprivileged.
Township Board Member Edith Moore said she will support Tommy Dancy as Hamilton’s replacement as supervisor. He is currently the head of the Mary Brown Center in East St. Louis. St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern could not immediately be reached for comment. Kern will appoint someone to fill Hamilton’s spot on the county board and the East Side Health District.
Moore also said the township is rescinding credit cards for the township’s officials.