ST.LOUIS (KSDK) - The former chief of the St. Clair Fire Protection District and the Ladue Fire Department was sentenced Thursday on federal fraud and tax charges, US Attorney Richard Callahan said.
According to court documents, 43-year-old Eric Hinson began working with the St. Clair Fire Protection District as a volunteer firefighter in 1985. He was elected to the district's Board of Directors in 1997, and later became district treasurer in 1999. In January 2011, he became district fire chief while continuing in his duties as treasurer until his resignation on September 28, 2011.
As treasurer, Hinson was responsible for preparing the annual budgets, facilitating the annual financial statement audit, gaining approval from the district's Board of Directors for expenditures, reconciling bank statements and performing other accounting related activities in the QuickBooks general ledger system, other than for payroll. He also had the ability to access the QuickBooks system remotely from outside the district offices.
Hinson admitted to using the district's credit cards to pay for family vacations to Hawaii and Florida, for sporting goods and other items, such as limousine rentals, tickets to Six Flags, Big Surf Water Park, and other entertainment expenses, restaurant meals, gasoline, hotel rooms, and to obtain significant cash advances. Hinson also used district funds to pay for personal credit card charges without the district's knowledge or consent.
On several occasions, Hinson wrote district checks to pay for personal expenses, including checks to Ford Credit for a pickup truck, to Macy's for furniture, to John Deere Credit for tractor parts, and checks to Bank of America and Fifth Third Bank for other personal expenses.
To cover up his fraudulent use of the district funds, Hinson admitted to using his remote access to the QuickBooks to change reported general ledger activity by backdating certain transactions and by changing the payee in order to manipulate the district's accounting record.
Hinson misused approximately $593,236 of St. Clair Fire Protection District funds between January 2006 and September 2011, the US Attorney's Office said.
Eric Hinson, a St. Clair resident, was indicted by federal grand jury in January 2013 and pleaded guilty in February to one felony count of mail fraud and five felony counts of tax evasion. He was sentenced to 35 months in prison and ordered to pay $615,298 in restitution.
As a result of the federal investigation, Hinson resigned his positions as chief of both the St. Clair Fire Protection District and the Ladue Fire Department.