Federal investigators took a $230,000 theft chronicled on a government American Express card and could only come up with $40,000 in actual thievery to send former East St. Louis Township supervisor Oliver W. Hamilton to the penitentiary for five years.
Well guess what? Two reporters with no background in forensic accounting just uncovered another $40,000 diverted by Hamilton. He used that amount from a state summer jobs grant, intended for the kids to perform conservation work, to have 13 teens work for his private construction company.
Reporters Beth Hundsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk also found Hamilton shuffled $300,000 in grant money and illegal loan proceeds around so the township would have enough money to cover his credit card bills.
The summer jobs program for two years could have cleared a lot of vacant lots, spruced up parks and improved playgrounds. Instead it became an ATM for township leaders, a hiring bureau for their relatives and a free labor pool for their and their pals' private businesses.
"These programs were designed to be run by faithful public servants and that just didn’t happen with Hamilton and his cronies,” said Illinois state Sen. Bill Haine, who sponsored the creation of the youth conservation summer jobs grants. “They just pillage. These programs are not there just to fund someone’s lifestyle."
Hamilton wasn't the only one wearing Viking garb. His sister, June Hamilton Dean, got $9,412 from the jobs grant to twice fill out a two-page application. She also used 18 teen workers at her daycare who were paid $58,590 from the state grant.
Hamilton Dean is already facing state charges for felony bank fraud. Prosecutors charged her with lying to the bank to get a $200,000 loan that township trustees never authorized.
So with all this corruption swirling around East St. Louis Township, how about a thorough forensic audit? If the reporters can uncover all these shenanigans, imagine what a trained CPA with the right attitude might find.
And because lax oversight by the Illinois Department of Conservation allowed the township leaders here to profit from the program, the entire grant program should be investigated statewide. Chances are we do not have a local monopoly on corruption in a state where former governors retire to prison.
East St. Louis Township is an excess layer of government that exactly mimics the boundaries of the city, but sucks $1.3 million a year in taxes from a community with a 44 percent poverty rate. The only appreciable public service it performs is to provide 25 jobs to the politically connected and the opportunity for larceny to the mildly clever.
Kill the township. Then let the tax savings help the local economy or go to hiring more cops.