Former Fire Chief Sentenced on Federal Fraud and Tax Charges

ST. LOUIS, MO—Eric Hinson was sentenced to 35 months in prison on mail fraud and multiple tax evasion charges involving his misuse of approximately $593,236 of St. Clair Fire Protection District funds between January 2006 and September 2011. As a result of the federal investigation, Hinson resigned his positions as chief at both the St. Clair Fire Protection District and the Ladue Fire Department. In addition to the prison sentence, he was ordered to pay restitution of $615,298.

“In rural Missouri, volunteer fire personnel are the backbone of public safety when it comes to our homes and property,” said U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan. “Aside from our thanks, they deserve much better than this from their leaders.”

The St. Clair Fire Protection District (district) provides fire protection service for Franklin County, Missouri, and has four fire houses, 18 full-time firefighters, and between 25-50 volunteer firefighters. The district is primarily funded by public funds through real estate tax, personal property tax, and sales tax. Eric Hinson began with the district as a volunteer firefighter during 1985 and was elected to the Board of Directors for the district in 1997 and as treasurer of the district in 1999. During January 2011, he became the fire chief for the district while continuing to perform his duties as treasurer until his resignation from the district 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.

According to court documents, Hinson used the district credit cards to pay for family vacations to Hawaii and Florida and to pay for personal items such as sporting goods and other items, limousine rentals, tickets to Six Flags, Big Surf Water Park, other entertainment expenses, restaurant meals, gasoline, and hotel rooms, as well as to obtain significant cash advances. Without the knowledge and authority of the district, Hinson directed that these personal credit card charges be paid with district funds. Further, on several occasions, Hinson wrote district checks to pay for his own 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. In order to conceal his scheme, Hinson accessed the district’s QuickBooks to alter reported general ledger activity by backdating certain of his fraudulent transactions and by changing the payee in order to manipulate the district’s accounting records so as to hide the existence of his fraudulent transactions. Through his fraudulent conduct, Hinson obtained approximately $593,236 from the St. Clair Fire Protection District.

Additionally, Hinson filed false tax returns for the years 2006 through 2010, leaving total additional taxes due of $132,383.

“The people of the city of St. Clair should applaud their fire department for their integrity,” said Dean C. Bryant, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI St. Louis Division. “The fire department itself exposed the crime of their former boss at the expense of their department’s reputation knowing it was the right thing to do.”

Hinson, 43, St. Clair, Missouri, pled guilty in February to one felony count of mail fraud and five felony counts of tax evasion and appeared today for sentencing before United States District Judge E. Richard Webber.

This case was investigated by the St. Clair Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, with the assistance of the St. Clair Fire Protection District. Assistant United States Attorney Hal Goldsmith handled the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

NOTE: This is a press prelease issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri, today, June 13, 2013   

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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