For more than a year, East St. Louis Township paid Kelvin Ellis as a consultant, even though a federal judge had prohibited him from working for any government agency supported by public funds.
In detailed, written monthly reports to his parole officer, Ellis admitted he was working at the township, according to court records. There, he would occasionally come into contact with other felons — a potential parole violation.
But for more than a year, the Office of Probation at the U.S. District Court in East St. Louis apparently never noticed the order forbidding public employment by Ellis, 68.
The former East St. Louis head of regulatory affairs was paroled in 2014 for tax evasion, obstruction and trying to have a witness killed. In a 2005 order, U.S. District Court judge and now chief judge Michael Reagan sentenced him to 10 years in prison and banned him from government employment during three years of supervised release or parole after his release.
In 2005, Ellis was convicted of tampering with a witness in connection with trying to have a woman murdered. Illinois State Police investigators had carried out a ruse showing a woman lying in mud at Horseshoe Lake. The faked photos helped convict Ellis.
During his year of employment, Ellis earned more than $20,000 from the township.
“Each time he cashed one of those checks, he could have opened himself up to a new criminal charge," said former federal public defender Phil Kavanaugh.
When Ellis' employment was finally brought to public attention, it was described in federal court papers as a violation of parole.
“This violation was originally not detected by U.S. Probation but would have been known by the defendant,” according to a court document filed in May.
Barbra Zarick, chief probation officer at the U.S. Probation Office in East St. Louis, said regulations prevented her from commenting publicly in a matter involving a defendant.
The oversight came to light after Ellis was charged with violating parole by intentionally meeting with another felon while on parole.
On April 27, 2017, an FBI agent having lunch at Hardee’s restaurant in Caseyville noticed Ellis sitting at a nearby table with recently convicted felon Oliver Hamilton, the former East St. Louis Township supervisor. The agent secretly photographed the men.
Hamilton, who is serving a five-year federal prison term for wire fraud involving $40,000 in illegal purchases made on a township American Express card, was Ellis’ boss during 2016. Hamilton signed 22 paychecks for Ellis ranging from $793 to $906. Township officials said Ellis was a consultant.
Reagan, the chief federal judge, also presided over the prosecution of Hamilton. Citing the seriousness of what he termed stealing from the poor, "You take a dollar from a pauper, you take everything from that man," Reagan said at Hamilton's April sentencing.
The former township supervisor charged $230,000 on a public credit card over four years, according to a News-Democrat investigation in 2016 that led to an FBI probe and the eventual conviction of Hamilton. He often spent from $8,000 to as much as $10,000 in a single trip to a big box building supply store for items ranging from paint, tools, wood fixtures, cement, tractor tires and repairs on equipment stored at his company, Hamilton Construction.
Ellis was sentenced Nov. 16 of violating his parole for having lunch with Hamilton and one other person. He is currently serving a year in prison at a minimum-security prison in Arkansas. His release date is Dec. 26. He will have to serve two additional years of supervised release under a number of conditions, including that he “shall not work or volunteer for any entity that receives, in whole or in part, public funds.”
Although Hamilton stopped writing township checks in late December 2016 following his guilty plea to wire fraud, Ellis was still paid for a short time by the township. These checks were signed by interim supervisor Tommy Dancy. The four paychecks totaled $3,197.
The last paycheck to Ellis was dated Aug. 29, 2017, and was signed by Alvin Parks, the former East St. Louis mayor who won election as township supervisor after Hamilton's conviction. Parks declined to comment.