Former Mo. Fire Chief Admits Stealing $600K from Fire Budgets
Feb. 06--ST. LOUIS -- A former fire chief of both the St. Clair Fire District and the Ladue Fire Department admitted in federal court here Wednesday that he stole almost $600,000 from the St. Clair district from January 2006 through September 2011.
Eric Hinson, 43, of St. Clair, took out "significant" cash advances on a district credit card and used it for family vacations to Florida and Hawaii as well as entertainment and limo rentals. He also used district money for payments on his truck, for furniture and for other personal purchases, prosecutors said.
The defendant covered up his theft by altering accounting records, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith said in court as Hinson bowed his head.
Hinson pleaded guilty of one count of mail fraud and five counts of tax evasion. He acknowledged filing false tax returns for 2006-2010, failing to report the $593,236.42 he embezzled as income and dodging $132,383 in taxes due, Goldsmith said.
During the hearing, Hinson's counsel, Jeff Jensen said lawyers are still looking at financial records, and may argue that Hinson took less than prosecutors claim.
At his sentencing May 2, Hinson faces 33 to 41 months in prison under federal guidelines.
The St. Clair district serves an area along Interstate 44, about 50 miles southwest of St. Louis, with a combination of paid firefighters and volunteers using four stations.
Hinson's purchase of a $55 pair of boots for his son originally triggered questions about spending, current Treasurer Dave Berkel told the Post-Dispatch last month. Berkel said that the district has had to cut expenditures and put off maintenance due to the theft.
Hinson started as a volunteer firefighter with St. Clair in 1985. He became treasurer in 1999 and added the chief's title in January 2011. The part-time job paid roughly $25,000.
In July 2011, he became chief in Ladue, and worked both job until his resignations that September because of the investigation. There has been no claim of financial improprieties at Ladue.
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