An investigative series by the Belleville News-Democrat about East St. Louis Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton’s use of a public credit card to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal purchases won a President’s Award from McClatchy, the company announced Friday.
The series, by BND reporters Beth Hundsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk, led to criminal charges against Hamilton and others.
Through what the judges called “dogged” and “impressive” reporting, Hundsdorfer and Pawlaczyk “uncovered that Hamilton misused thousands of dollars in government money meant to help the poor. Federal law enforcement officials used the reporters’ work as a roadmap for their own investigation — and for the criminal charges that followed,” according to a press release.
Hundsdorfer and Pawlaczyk won for the second straight year and third time overall. They won last year for stories on local law enforcement’s failure to prosecute sexual assault and abuse cases.
McClatchy, a Sacramento, California-based media company, owns 29 digital and print news operations, including the Belleville News-Democrat and bnd.com.
The BND reported last year that Hamilton charged at least $230,000 over four years, including tens of thousands of dollars in building supplies for which he could not provide a reason they would be charged to the township. Hamilton owns a private construction company.
He also charged $40,000 in gasoline at gas stations all over the metro east and in St. Louis, sometimes buying more than $200 worth of fuel in a single day. He spent thousands of dollars for car washes and detailing for his Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck and used the card to pay for trips, including to Las Vegas.
Hamilton, who was charged with federal wire fraud and misuse of public funds, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis.
The BND was one of 11 President’s Awards given to journalists across the company who “uncovered corruption in local government, held leaders and institutions accountable and told human stories in compelling and original ways,” McClatchy said in a press release.
Other winners were: The Biloxi Sun Herald, The Charlotte Observer, the (Hilton Head) Island Packet, The Kansas City Star, the Lexington Herald-Leader, Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, The Sacramento Bee, The (Tacoma) News Tribune, and the McClatchy Washington Bureau.