Metro-East News

What $1,000 limit? Township officials charged $210,000 over four years on credit cards

East St. Louis Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton outside the Township Offices, which are located at the Clyde Jordan Senior Center on State Street in East St. Louis.
East St. Louis Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton outside the Township Offices, which are located at the Clyde Jordan Senior Center on State Street in East St. Louis. tvizer@bnd.com

When an American Express bill topped $7,000 for January 2012, a concerned East St. Louis Township board the next month passed a resolution limiting spending to $1,000 a month on a single credit card issued to Supervisor Oliver Hamilton.

But that didn’t stop Hamilton and eventually two other township employees from running up at least $210,000 on their cards over the next four years, including in December 2012, when the charges were $23,360, according to monthly credit card records obtained by the News-Democrat under the Freedom of Information Act.

No month came in under $1,000 after the limit was in place.

The total spending on township credit cards from 2012-15 likely will be higher because credit card records for 10 months in 2013 were not provided.

Township officials also ignored a requirement in the resolution that there be only one credit card, in Hamilton’s name. American Express cards later were issued to Hamilton’s sister, June Hamilton Dean, an East St. Louis City Council member who is paid $33,000 a year as a township financial consultant, and Yvette Johnson, township administrator.

After the board voted to limit credit card spending in February 2012, the very next bill was $8,375, as Oliver Hamilton continued on a spending spree that is now under federal investigation.

Of the $210,000 in credit card spending by the township, Hamilton charged most of it — $168,572, or 80 percent.

In the city where I work ... there are checks and balances.

Edith Moore, township board member and community development director for the city

East St. Louis Township is one of the poorest areas in the state. About 45 percent of its residents live below the federal poverty level. The township has an operating budget of $1.5 million, and its sole purpose is to provide general assistance and help the poor and elderly.

The BND reported June 3 that Hamilton charged $84,970 on his American Express card between June 1, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2015, the only records available at that time. The purchases included tens of thousands of dollars on building supplies, special tools and new tires for his private construction company’s backhoe, as well as more than $11,000 in gasoline, including for personal trips to Las Vegas and $34 car washes.

A total of $94,310 was charged on the three cards during that 19-month period, with 90 percent of it charged on Oliver Hamilton’s card. Hamilton Dean charged $2,288 and Johnson charged $7,053.

Hamilton and his attorney, Clyde Kuehn of Belleville, declined to comment. When asked in May about the purchases on his township card, Hamilton said, “I’m just trying to do what’s right for the people.”

June Hamilton Dean provided store receipts for some of her card purchases for 2012-2015; Johnson declined to comment.

Township Trustee Edith Moore, who sponsored the resolution to limit credit card spending, said she doesn’t know why it has been virtually ignored for more than four years. Moore, who is also the community development director for the city of East St. Louis, said, “In the city where I work ... there are checks and balances.”

The BND also recently received minutes and expense claim sheets from township board meetings. Claim sheets are a record of checks issued to pay monthly bills with no details provided. The combined claim sheets and credit card statements showed:

▪  A $1,225 purchase was made on June Hamilton Dean’s card for a set of four “medium truck” tires, even though the township did not have such a truck. The tires were bought Oct. 17, 2012, at a St. Louis retailer, a little more than eight months after trustees limited credit card monthly spending to $1,000 and “... solely for township expenses.” The receipt contains a portion of Hamilton Dean’s township credit card number but did not identify the purchaser.

$210,000Amount spent on three East St. Louis Township credit cards in four years

$168,572The amount spent by Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton alone

$23,360Amount spent in one month, December 2012, on the three credit cards

Hamilton Dean said in a written statement someone else used her card to buy the truck tires. She said, “I am not concerned” because of the “... systematic measures, reviews, checks and balances, that have been implemented by the township as a safeguard.” Hamilton Dean did not respond to additional questions asking whether she knew who bought the tires or inquired about the purchase.

The total credit card bill for that day also included $569 for a second set of tires, four “light truck” tires, which would have fit the township’s only vehicle, a 2009 SUV. On both receipts was the notation “no vehicle,” which a salesman noted means the tires were sold without mounting them.

The tire outlet, Statewide’s Best One Fleet Service, is the same store where Oliver charged $1,100 for two backhoe tires in 2015. The tires were mounted on a tractor that belongs to Hamilton’s construction company. Township officials said they approved the purchase because the tractor sometimes is used by the township to cut grass.

▪  Oliver Hamilton has full health coverage paid for by taxpayers as a member of the St. Clair County Board. But records show $608 in medical co-pay bills were paid in January 2015 by the township.

Labeled “Oliver med bills,” the 10 separate requests for payment included charges from a radiologist, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Memorial Hospital, the Fairview Heights Medical Group and an anesthesiologist.

While East St. Louis Township provides health insurance for employees, consultants and even board members, it could not be determined whether Hamilton has health coverage through the township.

▪  During a July 2015 township board meeting, Oliver Hamilton asked trustees to approve a $450-a-week job for a “banquet security guard” who would monitor senior citizens who took part in taxpayer-funded free lunches at the Clyde Jordan Senior Citizens Center, 6755 State St. location.

Robert Eastern III was hired for the $21,600 per year job. He is an East St. Louis City Council member and son of the former township supervisor, Robert Eastern II, who died in 2011. Eastern III said while he was still getting paid, an ongoing medical situation involving a close family member has prevented him from being on the job lately. He declined further comment.

▪  The meeting minutes for Jan. 25, 2012, show the township board failed to act on a request by Oliver Hamilton to give 4-percent raises to township employees. , Hamilton went ahead and gave the pay raises anyway, stating he had increased the duties for the workers. When board members found out at the next meeting, they stopped the pay increases but did not recoup the money that had already been paid. It was reclassified as “Christmas bonuses.”

I am not concerned.

June Hamilton Dean, township consultant, said of someone else using her credit card to purchase tires

▪  Shortly after the board agreed in December 2014 to spend $10,000 on fruit baskets for senior citizens at Christmas, Hamilton received two township checks. On the expense claim sheets for that month, a check to Hamilton for $600 was labeled “Xmas worker” and another for $357 was marked “Xmas boxes.” The township did not respond to written questions asking why these payments were made to Hamilton directly.

The minutes and claim sheets show Hamilton regularly received checks made out to himself. Hamilton successfully persuaded the board at the January 2013 township board meeting to agree that only his signature was needed on checks below $5,000 — even for checks made out to him.

June Hamilton Dean previously criticized the practice of making out checks to Hamilton for payment to others like phone companies and in one case $900 for back rent for a woman with three small children. The woman said she never received money from the township. When told about the $900 earmarked for the woman’s rent but made out to her brother, Hamilton Dean said, “I don’t think that’s proper.”

The expense claim sheets did not contain backup materials or receipts for thousands of dollars paid to Hamilton for his cellphone. Moore, the township trustee, said she had no idea why checks were written directly to Hamilton instead of to the cellphone service provider, as was the case with other services provided to the township by AT&T.

Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570, @bhundsdorfer

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk

Unquestioned

The claim sheets submitted to the East St. Louis Township board for payments to be approved also listed a number of non-payroll checks made out directly to Supervisor Oliver Hamilton for which no explanation was given, other than “petty cash” in a few cases. None was questioned by the board, according to meeting minutes. They included:

  • $782.10 — Jan. 5, 2012
  • $490 — Jan. 25, 2012
  • $1,000 — Feb. 17, 2012
  • $120 — July 12, 2012
  • $375.63 — July 12, 2012
  • $692.07 — Sept. 20, 2012
  • $517 — Dec. 12, 2012
  • $678.67 — Dec. 28, 2012
  • $360 — Jan. 3, 2013
  • $165.14 — Aug. 14, 2013 (Petty cash)
  • $500 — Jan. 15, 2014 (Petty cash)

Source: East St. Louis Township financial records

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