BENTON – The former treasurer of the Perry County Agricultural Society (PCAS), 49-year-old Billy E. Harris, was sentenced Tuesday to 21 months in prison for defrauding the PCAS out of more than $148,000.
The PCAS operates all of the festivals at the Perry County Fairgrounds in Pinckneyville, including the Perry County Fair. Harris, currently of St. Louis, MO, served as the treasurer of the PCAS from 2011 through October 2018.
At his plea hearing earlier this year, Harris admitted that from June 5, 2012 through October 3, 2018, he defrauded the PCAS out of more than $100,000. Specifically, Harris acknowledged that he paid his personal expenses, and purchased item s for his personal use, with electronic debits from the PCAS bank account. Many of those items were purchased through Amazon.
Some of the items that Harris admitted purchasing with PCAS funds include a WiFi router, Apple AirPods, a Himalyan Salt Lamp Air Purifier, Star Wars Darth Vader and Yoda personalized pet tags, a pair of Star Wars men’s sleep pants, a floating pool fountain, a CPAP tube cleaning brush, and men’s grooming products, including beard lube. Harris also admitted writing checks on the PCAS account payable to himself and his spouse, and forging a Board member’s signature on those checks.
At the sentencing hearing, the sentencing judge noted that Harris’ fraud against the PCAS was a product of greed. In explaining her decision to sentence Harris to prison, the judge stated that individuals who prey on small community organizations cannot steal large sums of money and then simply say “I’m sorry” and walk away with no real consequences.
“When individuals like Harris steal from civic groups like the Perry County Agricultural Society, they are really stealing from the communities that the groups serve,” U.S. Attorney Rachelle Aud Crowe said. “In this case, Harris stole from the people of Perry County who enjoy attending community events at the Perry County Fairgrounds. We will always seek to hold these individuals accountable for their actions.”
In addition to the 21 month prison sentence, the court also ordered Harris to pay $148,908.07 in restitution to the PCAS. After he is released from prison, Harris will then serve a two year period of supervised release.
The St. Louis Office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Pinckneyville Police Department investigated the case. The Perry County State’s Attorney’s Office also assisted with the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Scott Verseman and Zoe Gross prosecuted the case.