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Thursday, June 15, 2017 12:07 am

Calvin Christian back in court on federal charges

Calvin Christian III


Calvin Christian III of Springfield, the plaintiff who helped topple a mayor, is back in court, this time as a defendant facing as many as 15 years behind bars.

Christian is charged in U.S. District Court in Springfield for a dozen alleged felonies in Sangamon and Morgan counties, but federal prosecutors say that Christian also has been crossing state lines to defraud merchants with bogus credit cards. Prosecutors last week attempted to use Christian’s past against him, pointing out that he has skipped scores of hearings in state court in connection with traffic cases that made him one of Springfield’s most notorious traffic scofflaws.

Christian has gained notoriety on several fronts, first for forcing Springfield police to release internal affairs files that had traditionally been kept secret. Christian also sued the city in 2013 for shredding internal affairs files after he had requested copies. The city settled the case, paying Christian and his lawyers more than $100,000.

The shredding case, dubbed Shredgate, helped force the resignations of corporation counsel Mark Cullen and police chief Robert Williams less than one year before the mayoral election, and the illicit shredding of internal affairs files became an issue in the 2014 mayoral election. Incumbent Mike Houston didn’t make it past the primary.

Over the past decade, Christian has been involved in 149 cases, mostly concerning traffic offenses, according to Sangamon County Circuit Court records. He was granted supervision on many of the cases in January 2015, but continued racking up traffic offenses and so was sentenced to 180 days in jail that same month, with all but 15 days held in abeyance, according to court records. He routinely skipped court dates. Sangamon County jail records show that Christian was confined for more than two months last year in connection with a 2015 conviction for driving with a revoked license.

Even while ignoring traffic laws, Christian was bilking merchants with phony credit cards he’d created by obtaining account numbers on the internet, then creating fake cards with information from purloined account numbers embedded on magnet strips, assistant U.S. attorney John Childress said in court last Friday in an attempt to have Christian jailed until trial on charges of using bogus credit cards in Morgan, Macoupin and Sangamon counties in the spring and summer of 2015. But there was considerably more to Christian’s criminal endeavors, Childress told U.S. Magistrate Thomas Schanzle-Haskins.

Christian is also suspected of using bogus credit cards in Missouri, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Nebraska, Childress told the court. Just one month ago, Childress said, police pulled Christian over in Springfield and found 114 bogus credit cards and computer equipment that contained nearly 960 partial or full credit card account numbers that had been stolen.

It did not appear to be a particularly sophisticated operation, according to Childress, who said that Christian left a trail across the internet, cellphone records and video footage in stores that showed him using fake credit cards. In 2015, during a trip to several stores in St. Louis, Christian used his cellphone to text an accomplice: “Get one small thing. I want to see how it works,” Childress said. Christian has been caught in the act four times, the prosecutor said, and searches of his car have turned up fake credit cards and the equipment needed to manufacture them.

“I feel safe in describing the evidence as overwhelming,” Childress told the magistrate.

Childress urged that Christian be jailed pending trial, pointing out his record in obeying judicial orders to appear in court on traffic offenses.

“It can charitably be described as dismal,” Childress said. “He has failed to appear 33 times.”

Defense attorney Daniel Fultz didn’t disagree with the prosecutor’s assessment of Christian’s record of showing up for court.

“Nobody would describe it as anything but abysmal,” Fultz said. “It’s horrible. … But it doesn’t add up to a flight risk or a danger to the community.”

Fultz pointed out that Christian has never been convicted of a felony, and he has not been accused of a violent offense. While he hasn’t shown up for court, Christian also has never fled Sangamon County to avoid prosecution, Fultz said.

In the end, Schanzle-Haskins allowed Christian to remain free pending trial in August, but he ordered him to live at his parents’ home and stay there unless he needs to work, obtain medical care or attend a court hearing. The magistrate also ordered Christian, who is employed by his father, not to use the internet unless required to do so for work.

The magistrate also said that Christian appears to face a tough fight in court.

“The strength of the evidence and the case as described by Mr. Childress is overwhelming,” Schanzle-Haskins said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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