East St. Louis Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton used a taxpayer-supported American Express card to pay for more than $2,000 worth of car washes and auto detailing during a period of four and a half years, according to financial records obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Hamilton, who did not respond to a request to comment, has said he does not drive the township’s only vehicle, a 2009 Ford Explorer SUV, and instead uses his personal vehicle, a 2015 Chevrolet Silverado pickup. According to a 2012 township trustee board resolution, the credit card is supposed to be used “solely for township purposes.”
“This mind-boggling level of waste and corruption should leave taxpayers speechless,” said Curtis Kalin, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Citizens Against Government Waste.
Kalin was asked to comment on the car washes as well as Hamilton’s overall use of the credit card that, during the same period, topped $230,000 for such costs as trips to Las Vegas with his wife, more than $11,000 in gas, and tens of thousands spent on building supplies, special tools and new tires for his company’s backhoe from Home Depot, Walmart, Lowe’s and other stores. Hamilton owns Hamilton Contractors, a construction company.
When they voted to limit use of township credit cards to township business only, the trustee board also placed a monthly charge cap of $1,000 on the card, but that has not been enforced. Board members are not given an itemized credit card bill but see only a single total American Express amount each month. Township spending and other financial matters are currently the subject of a federal investigation.
“The fundamental issue is the complete and utter failure of township officials to provide any oversight on taxpayer-supported credit cards,” Kalin said in a written response. “A system that does not hold public officials accountable is a system just begging to be defrauded. The law enforcement officials investigating this travesty should continue to follow the money, wherever it leads.”
Hamilton charged $2,032 at the Auto Spa in Fairview Heights at 10518 Lincoln Trail for what the monthly credit card statements referred to as “car washes,” which top out at $8.50 just for an exterior wash for a pickup but offer a variety of extra detailing services that sharply hike the overall cost. The extras include interior cleaning and Wheel Brite. The “Deluxe Combo” consists of a full service wash, an under body spray and rust inhibitor, clear coat protectant and air freshener. The “Gold Package” does all that and adds three coats of wax.
The records show that Hamilton most often charged $59.95 to the township’s credit card for what was termed a “car wash,” followed in frequency by $44.95 and $62.95. An employee of the car wash said it was difficult to pin down exactly what services these various amounts represented, but calculated that each of the totals could result from various combinations of what is offered.
Hamilton also charged an additional $1,073 to the credit card for what were listed as “oil changes” but probably included interior or exterior detailing as well, according to the Auto Spa’s “Service Guide” of oil change prices. A total of nine charges ranging from $90.92 to $234.45 were listed on the card statements as “oil change.” It is unclear if more than one vehicle was serviced.
In all, the township credit card was used by Hamilton 52 times for a total of $3,105 to pay for costs at the Auto Spa, which also offers a myriad of other services including chassis lubes and checking brake fluid and antifreeze levels.
An inspection of the township credit card records showed that in December of 2011 the card issued to Hamilton had accrued 81,370 “bonus points.” He cashed in 60,000 points, records show, and was given 22 Red Lobster restaurant $25 gift cards and two $25 cards for the Longhorn Steakhouse restaurant. Township officials did not respond to a written request for information as to who used the gift cards. Hamilton was appointed supervisor in March 2011 shortly after the death of then supervisor Robert Eastern II. He was elected in April 2013.
“Transparency is vital for open and accountable government and for citizens to ensure that corruption does not go unnoticed in their communities,” said Mindy Ruckman, a policy analyst for the Illinois Policy Institute, a non-profit tax watchdog group. Ruckman was given a summary of Hamilton’s credit card use.
“Unfortunately taxpayers are always the loser when corruption and mismanagement occur,” she said, “because the costs, whether it is many small instances of theft, or major occurrences, falls on the backs of taxpayers.”