The East St. Louis Housing Authority awarded Oliver Hamilton’s private construction company eight contracts totaling $628,966 while a woman with whom he had a child managed the agency’s contracts department, according to public records.
The contracts were issued from 2008-12 for work that included cleaning and repairing drywall at public housing units, according to documents obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. Hamilton became East St. Louis Township supervisor in 2011.
Housing Authority Executive Director Mildred Motley, who was not on the job when the contracts were awarded, said her staff was unsure whether former contracts manager Patricia Wright was involved in processing the bids and contracts that eventually went to Hamilton Construction.
“Based on reviewing the files, we have no evidence of unfair treatment to other competing contractors,” Motley said in a written statement.
Wright, 41, and Hamilton, 62, are the parents of a 10-year-old boy who lives with Wright near Nashville, Tennessee, where Wright is an official with the housing authority there, according to court records and former and present housing authority officials. She could not be reached for comment.
Hamilton is married to Belynda Hamilton, who lives in Caseyville. He has said that on the advice of counsel, he cannot comment.
Hamilton is the subject of a federal investigation that came after the Belleville News-Democrat reported Hamilton spent more than $200,000 over four years on his township American Express credit card on personal trips to Las Vegas, car washes and auto detailing, tens of thousands of dollars in gasoline, and building and construction equipment at local big box hardware stores.
Wright disclosed the relationship with Hamilton to then housing authority executive director Elizabeth Tolliver, as required by the authority’s federal overseer, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Motley said. However, she said a required written conflict “mitigation plan” could not be found in the files.
“It’s unclear what Ms. Wright’s involvement was throughout the process,” Motley said.
Based on reviewing the files, we have no evidence of unfair treatment to other competing contractors.
Mildred Motley, East St. Louis Housing Authority executive director
Hamilton and Wright were in court in December 2014 in St. Clair County to work out visitation arrangements for Hamilton and the boy. Court documents show a judge approved monthly visits during which Wright would come from Nashville to Southern Illinois to drop off or pick up the boy from Hamilton or someone he designated.
The boy was to be picked up in Marion on Fridays and dropped off in Vienna on Sundays, according to court documents.
Receipts for a township American Express card issued to Hamilton showed the card was used to buy $26.64 in gas in Clarksville, Tennessee, where Wright lives, two days before the court hearing in St. Clair County to decide child support and visitation for the boy. The same day, $58.70 in gas was charged to Hamilton’s card in Paducah, Kentucky.
Receipts for a card issued to Hamilton’s sister, June Hamilton Dean, showed $768.73 in restaurant, gas and motel charges over five separate days in late 2014 and 2015 in Marion and Vienna that began on Dec. 6, 2014, four days after the judge approved the court-ordered visitation agreement.
A total of $205.84 was charged to Oliver Hamilton’s card for two trips to the Marion-Vienna area. There were no charges for businesses in this area on either Oliver Hamilton’s or June Hamilton-Dean’s cards prior to the visitation hearing.
Hamilton Dean, an East St. Louis city councilwoman who’s paid $33,000 a year as a township financial consultant, has said these charges were related to a state-sponsored anti-gun violence program known as Cease Fire and for agricultural training for a member of the township staff. She said she authorized other township employees to use her card. She did not respond to questions for this story.
$628,966Amount of money awarded to Hamilton Construction
8 Number of contracts awarded to Hamilton by the ESL Housing Authority
2008-2012 Time period during which the contracts were awarded
The housing authority changed its policy regarding employees’ potential conflicts of interest after inquiries from the News-Democrat. Previously, disclosure of potential conflicts was required only during the hiring process.
“To ensure that all bidders are receiving fair and equal treatment, we are requiring an annual disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest and outside employment,” Motley said in a written statement.
While Tolliver, the former housing authority executive director, directed Wright to abstain from the bidding and contact awarding process if Hamilton’s company was involved, Wright’s name was printed or signed on various housing authority documents connected to contracts awarded to her son’s father, according to copies obtained by the News-Democrat.
Two documents, titled “Solicitation, Offer, and Award” on projects eventually won by Hamilton, stated “For more information contact: Patricia Wright-Contract Manager,” and gave her authority phone number and email address. These contracts were for $2,000 to clean up pigeon feces in a housing authority building in 2010 and another in 2012 for $99,838 to install drywall at the Villa Griffin Homes. Both documents were signed by Tolliver.
Tolliver said during a telephone interview she was told about the relationship between Wright and Hamilton and thought that “something was written up. It’s all documented at the housing authority records.”
But Motley, the current director, said, “I had a discussion with Ms. Tolliver and she indicated there was a written disclosure to her, and that Ms. Wright was removed from the process. We have been unable to find the written response or mitigation plan.”
Wright’s name was on other forms involving Hamilton Construction. A “Purchase Tabulation Form” dated Dec. 12, 2011, for tuck pointing or brick work at the Roosevelt Homes referred to Hamilton’s low bid of $14,469 and listed Wright as the originator of the document. Another form labeled “Notice to Proceed” for the same project was signed by Hamilton and Tolliver and listed Wright as the contact person.
If it was that way, I think we should have been told that.
Mark Slater, Belleville contractor
Wright’s job as contracts manager ended on June 7, 2013, when she was promoted to modernization manager at $57,000 a year. She left the housing authority a year later.
Hamilton’s last contract was awarded Feb. 17, 2012, for the drywall work at Villa Griffin Homes. His winning bid of $99,838 was half the next lowest bid of $199,330 by Slater Construction Co. in Belleville.
Mack Slater said he knows both Wright and Hamilton but did not know they had a baby together.
“If it was that way, I think we should have been told that,” Slater said.
Edith Moore, who was chairman of the housing authority board when the Hamilton contracts were awarded, said, “The board did not have any direct contact with staff. HUD did. The housing authority was still under HUD oversight.” Moore, who heads the city of East St. Louis Community Development Department, also is a member of the East St. Louis Township board.
HUD moved in 2013 to turn the East St. Louis Housing Authority over to St. Clair County after 26 years of federal oversight. The move came after an inspector general’s report criticized the local housing authority's handling of $2.3 million in federal stimulus money. In 2013, Moore and other board members filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop HUD from expelling the board. The suit was dismissed in 2015 and the authority board was disbanded.
In addition to granting visitation rights in 2014, the judge ordered Hamilton to pay $1,000 a month in child support to Wright. That same year, Hamilton was named to the newly created position of executive director of the township’s Cease Fire program. It previously was run by a program manager and outreach supervisor.
Copies of township checks showed Hamilton received a $750 monthly paycheck from Cease Fire with $250 deducted for “child support." That same year, his sister, Hamilton Dean, was named fiscal officer for the local Cease Fire program with a salary of $4,074.
Cease Fire, based in Chicago, was disbanded in 2015 after an inspector general’s report criticized the program for “widespread failure” to properly audit the program’s funds.
A detailed look at the contracts
Here are the eight contracts awarded to Hamilton Construction between Aug. 28, 2008, and Feb. 17, 2012, during the time when Patricia Wright, with whom he had a son, was contracts manager for the East St. Louis Housing Authority:
- Painting, 8/28/08, $70,400
- Vacant unit preparation, 10/15/08, $100,000
- Painting, 3/27/09, $50,000
- Vacant unit preparation, 10/5/09, $142,259
- Removal of pigeon feces, 8/19/10, $2,000
- Painting, 4/5/11, $150,000
- Tuckpointing, brick repair, 11/21/11, $14,469
- Drywall installation, 2/17/12, $99,838