Former East St. Louis Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton took from the poorest of the poor, got caught and a judge sentenced him to five years in prison.
Hamilton claimed to the U.S. Court of Appeals that his sentence was too long.
The appellate court disagreed Tuesday and allowed his five-year sentence to stand.
The three judge panel included 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Diane Wood, Judges William Bauer and Frank Easterbrook all affirmed U. S. District Judge Michael Reagan’s five-year prison sentence for Hamilton.
Federal prosecutors initially agreed to a sentence of a year and a day in prison for Hamilton, but Reagan balked.
Reagan found the thefts left the township in dire financial straits, including deficits of $2.5 million in fiscal year 2013. Hamilton, who earned about $140,000 from the township and his businesses, treated the township as “his personal piggy bank,” leaving some of the most financial vulnerable residents in the state without the help the township was supposed to provide.
“Hamilton chose corruption and greed while hoodwinking the community into believe that he was helping them,” Reagan said.
The appellate judges also noted the text that Hamilton admitted to sending that stated the “judge is going to to use all the lies the newspaper has printed to give me the maximum sentence ... I guess I have to pay for going against the Belleville political party.”
After his admission, the prosecutor announced Hamilton breached his plea agreement and the government could ask for any sentence. They asked for two years.
Federal prosecutors claimed Hamilton charged $40,001 on a taxpayer-supported American Express card, but a News-Democrat investigation found he charged much more, up to $230,000 in illegitimate or unnecessary expenses.
“Some of the charges obviously violated criminal laws. These charges included charges for multiple airline tickets to Las Vegas ($1,519); rental cars, parking fees, out-of-state fuel purchases ($17,502); lawn equipment ($4,269); child support (at least $2,000); car washes ($2,700); and purported bills from Hamilton’s construction company ($15,000),” the appellate decision stated. “Other charges were harder to classify as illicit or illegitimate.”
The appellate decision goes on to discuss a conference Hamilton attended as part of his role as township supervisor, but where he rented nine hotel rooms and two rental cars.
“Rather than trying to figure out the fraudulent component of these (and various other) charges, the government elected not to count them in the loss calculation and thus bypassed the change to show several hundred thousand dollars of additional loss,” the opinion stated. “Once Hamilton ‘jumped on board’ and agreed to plead guilty, the government opted to agree with him that the loss was $40,001.”
During the sentence, Reagan noted that Hamilton targeted the disenfranchised citizens of East St. Louis, where the median income is around $19,000 year.
“We considered Hamilton’s other arguments, but we see nothing else that requires comment,” the opinion stated. “The sentence the district court chose was substantially above the guidelines range, but the judge justified it appropriately and any disparity with other sentences was not an unwarranted one.”