Former St. Clair & Ladue Fire Chief Pleads Guilty To Fraud

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(KTVI) - There was a feeling it was coming and still the news hit like a bombshell.

The former fire chief for both Ladue and St. Clair, Missouri, has admitted to ringing up more than $593,000 worth of purchases on a fire district credit card.

It all came at the expense of St. Clair; not Ladue.

Eric Hinson, 43, pleaded guilty to federal charges of mail fraud and tax evasion.  

When Hinson did an interview with Fox 2 at a Ladue hazardous materials spill in September of 2011, he`d just made a $20 Amazon purchase with a St. Clair Fire Protection District credit card about 2 weeks earlier.

An audit shows it was one his last and least expensive charges in a spending spree which began no later than February of `07 - with huge cash advances, lavish family vacations, and purchases from the Galleria Mall to Walmart to Weekends Only Furniture.

'It is mindboggling.  It occurred over a period of about the last 5 year,' said Kirby Bonderman, President of the St. Clair Fire Protection District Board.

The audit shows $94,000 in cash advances, plus vehicle, flower, jewelry, and sporting goods purchases, along with cell phone, insurance, and hotel room payments; plus nearly $18,000 at grocery stores, Home Depot, and Walgreens.

There were family vacations to Hawaii and Key West; thousands more spent on movies, trips to Six Flags, and Busch Stadium - plus thousands more at restaurants, from Red Lobster to Hooters to Krispy Kreme - and more than $5,000 at gas stations.   

'It`s hard to believe that anyone in the organization would do that and take money for their own use...someone you had served many years with.  That makes it even worse,' Banderman said.

He said Hinson was the fire board treasurer for much of the time; doctoring and disposing of records to hide all of that spending, in a district always in need of equipment and facility upgrades, plus additional manpower.  

'I think everybody feels a profound sense of disappointment and betrayal,' Banderman said.

Hinson resigned from Ladue in August.  He resigned from St. Clair in 2011.  He was part time at St. Clair, full time at Ladue.  He started with St. Clair in the junior firefighter program in the 1980`s.  There's no indication of wrongdoing with Ladue.  He faces up to 20 years in prison, but will likely get less than 4 when sentenced in May.

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