Former Columbia mayor pleads guilty in federal court

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Former Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson pleaded guilty Monday morning at U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois in East St. Louis of lying to investigators who were examining his insurance dealings with the city.

Judge Stephen McGlynn accepted Hutchinson’s negotiated plea agreement.

“The defendant is adjudged guilty,” McGlynn said after ensuring Hutchinson wanted to plead guilty.

Hutchinson resigned as mayor on March 1 after he was charged Feb. 24 with making a materially false statement to a member of the Metro-East Public Corruption Task Force and an FBI agent on March 20, 2019.

Hutchinson also did not truthfully complete his 2018 statement of economic interest because he did not disclose that he had any financial interest, direct or indirect, with any contract, work or business of Columbia.

That was false because Hutchinson, as Columbia mayor and a licensed insurance agent who owned a closely held corporation called BMC Associates, “received referral commissions from the insurance contracts that the City of Columbia placed with” Maher Rosenheim Comfort Tabash and Illinois Counties Risk Management Trust, per the initial court filings.

Hutchinson, who was present in court, agreed to that stipulation of facts in another signed document filed Monday morning.

The task force, which consists of agents with the FBI, IRS and Illinois State Police, opened an investigation into Hutchinson to determine whether he had violated federal law after learning he received commissions for those contracts.

Hutchinson was prohibited under the Illinois Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act from being financially interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract, work or business of the city. Hutchinson, who also agreed to that in the stipulation of facts, has not been charged with a crime on that front.

As part of the negotiated plea agreement, the state and Hutchinson’s defense attorney recommended he be sentenced to two years probation, with the possibility of serving only one year, fined $1,000 and perform 40 hours of community service.

The advisory sentencing guidelines in the plea agreement state Hutchinson’s crime was at a level that could warrant zero to six months in prison and a fine of $500 to $9,500. The maximum penalty for lying to investigators is five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

McGlynn will take the recommendation into consideration at a sentencing hearing set for June 28. Hutchinson may also argue for a more lenient sentence at that hearing.

Columbia provides health insurance coverage for its employees and separately maintains property/casualty loss insurance.

MRCT was a benefits firm in St. Louis, offering comprehensive employee benefits, financial products and human resources consulting. The company has since dissolved with certain aspects of the business being bought by One Digital, which is not a named party in the Hutchinson matter. 

Columbia used ICRMT from 2017 through 2020. It cost $223,659 to renew that contract last time. 

The city began using MCRT as its broker for employee benefits in 2015.

Ward III Alderman Gene Ebersohl is serving as acting mayor for the remainder of Hutchinson’s term, which ends next month. The municipal election takes place April 6.

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