EAST ST. LOUIS — Saying he could think of “nothing worse than taking from the indigent,” a federal judge sentenced a former East. St. Louis Township official who admitted stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the impoverished community to five years in prison.
In scathing comments during Thursday’s hearing and in a memo to attorneys, U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan made it clear why he was giving 63-year-old Oliver W. Hamilton a sentence that was five times longer than the one recommended by prosecutors and Hamilton’s lawyers.
“The court intends to send a clear message that public corruption will not be tolerated,” the judge wrote of Hamilton, who pleaded guilty in December to wire fraud, admitting that he’d used a township credit card to steal about $40,000 to buy himself things like plane tickets and to make child support payments.
Hamilton’s arrest, plea and sentence came after a (Belleville) News Democrat investigation found that Hamilton used the township credit card to make at least $230,000 in personal purchases during a four-year period. According to the paper, Hamilton, a Democrat who had been a township supervisor from 2011 until he resigned after his guilty plea, used the card to pay for plane trips to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, thousands of gallons and gasoline, flowers, gifts and meals at restaurants.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Norm Smith agreed there other questionable expenses but that he could only prove the theft of $40,001.
Before Hamilton was sentenced, the man who was appointed to replace him as township supervisor said the theft had resulted in funding cuts to programs that help needy residents of the community, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the state.
“I understand that I have done wrong,” Hamilton told the judge before he was sentenced.