COLUMBIA — With Tuesday's municipal election looming, Sixth Ward Columbia City Council candidate Bill Tillotson found himself explaining a case in which he pleaded guilty to fraud 36 years ago and then received a pardon from the governor 22 years later.
Tillotson pleaded guilty to charges of fraud in November 1976, according to a Missouri State Highway Patrol criminal history record provided to the Missourian. Execution of his original sentence of 60 days confinement was suspended and later dismissed after he served one year of probation without violation.
Additional documents indicate that Gov. Mel Carnahan granted him a full pardon from the crime in 1998, more than two decades later.
One of three types of clemency, a full pardon does not scrub charges from one's criminal record. It does, however, "restore all rights of citizenship" and nullify "any disqualification or punitive effect" that occurred consequent of conviction.
The documents left unspecified the type and the severity of the fraud to which Tillotson pleaded guilty.
After KMIZ aired a short segment on the matter Wednesday night, Tillotson's campaign produced a news release with further explanation.
According to the statement, Tillotson was a new insurance salesman when he was hired by a remotely operated firm in Salisbury. The company turned out to be a sham, and, in the absence of its orchestrator, Tillotson was charged with fraud.
He said he followed the advice of the prosecutor in pleading guilty but later sought and was granted a rare pardon when the charge became a hindrance to further professional licensure.
The release concludes with a condemnation of opponent Barbara Hoppe, calling her comment to the Columbia Daily Tribune that "(Tillotson's) conviction... should be something that weighs heavily on the voters" a betrayal of her career as a public defender.
Hoppe has retired after years of work with the Missouri Public Defender's Office.
Attorney David Tyson Smith delivered records pertaining to the Tillotson case to the Missourian. A campaign finance report the Hoppe campaign filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission on Monday shows that Smith donated $200 to Hoppe's campaign earlier this month.
Hoppe, however, said she is not responsible for disseminating information about the Tillotson case. She said Smith, like many members of the legal community, has been a supporter of hers.
"I'm an attorney. I know a lot of attorneys," she said, pointing to a recent set of campaign donations from fellow lawyers as evidence.
Smith said that other than the donation he is unaffiliated with Hoppe's campaign. He said he has not spoken to her about the Tillotson case.
Politics and preference aside, Smith said, criminal background is something "people need to know" about a candidate.