Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 24, 2013

Ex-Martin mayor, 3 others charged in alleged scheme

Staff report
The Independent

MARTIN — A former mayor of the Floyd County town of Martin, her daughter and two other city employees have been indicted for allegedly engaging in a scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration and to misapply federal funds.

The federal indictment filed on Wednesday names former Martin Mayor Ruth Thomasine Robinson, 69; her daughter, Rita Christine Whicker, 42, who formerly directed the Martin Community Center; Ginger Michelle Halbert, 42, a volunteer city employee who worked closely with Robinson; and Ethel Lee Clouse, 68, the bookkeeper for the city.

All four defendants have been charged with conspiracy to defraud the SSA, theft of Social Security disability benefits and aggravated identity theft.

Halbert, Whicker and Robinson were also charged with misappropriating money from a federal program. The final count of the indictment charges Halbert with knowingly failing to report her employment and earnings to the Social Security Administration, according to a news release from the office of U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey.

According to the indictment, from 2006 until January 2013, Halbert, who purportedly worked on a volunteer basis, was secretly being paid with federal funds primarily intended for the Martin Community Center and the Martin Housing Authority.

To conceal the scheme, the defendants allegedly arranged for the checks to be made payable to Halbert’s son.

The indictment further alleges that Halbert, who was receiving Social Security disability benefits, intentionally failed to notify SSA of her earned income from the city of Martin.    

Under federal law, anyone who receives disability benefits is limited in the amount of money he or she can receive from another source and all income must be reported to the SSA so it can properly determine eligibility for benefits.

 The charges of conspiracy and Social Security fraud carry a maximum of five years in prison; the charge of misappropriating money from a federal program carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison; and the aggravated identity theft charge has a mandatory minimum penalty of two years in prison upon a conviction.

The defendants are scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 5 in U.S. District Court in Pikeville.