By Brittany Ludwig
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - The former chief of the St. Clair Fire Protection District and Ladue Fire Department pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal fraud and tax charges over misuse of funds, US Attorney Richard Callahan said.
Eric Hinson, 43, was indicted by a federal grand jury in January 2013 on one felony count of mail fraud and five felony counts of tax evasion. He pleaded guilty to all counts.
Prosecutors said Hinson used St. Clair Fire Protection District credit cards to pay for vacations to Hawaii and Florida, as well as personal items, such as: sporting goods and other items, limousine rentals, tickets to Six Flags and Big Surf Water Park, and other entertainment expenses, restaurant meals, gasoline, and hotel rooms, as well as to obtain significant cash advances.
Hinson also wrote fire protection district checks to pay for his own personal expenses, including checks to Ford for a pickup truck, to Macy's for furniture, to John Deere for tractor parts, and checks to Bank of America and Fifth Third Bank for other personal expenses.
Eric Hinson admitted to misusing approximately $593,236 of St. Clair Fire Protection District funds between January 2006 and September 2011, and filing false tax returns for the years 2006 through 2010, leaving additional taxes due of $132,383.
Hinson began with the St. Clair Fire Protection District as a volunteer firefighter in 1985. In 1997, he was elected to the district's board of directors and became treasurer in 1999. He became district fire chief in January 2011 while still performing his duties as treasurer until his resignation on September 28, 2011.
As treasurer Hinson was responsible for preparing annual budgets, facilitating the annual financial statement audit, gaining approval from the district board of directors for expenditures, reconciling bank statements and performing other accounting related activities, in the QuickBooks general ledger system, other than payroll. He also had access to the QuickBooks system remotely while outside of the district offices.
Eric Hinson will be sentenced May 2, 2013. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on the mail fraud charge. Each count of tax evasion carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.