LONDON — A federal grand jury returned a nine-count indictment against former Martin Mayor Ruth Thomasine Robinson and three others Wednesday, charging them with defrauding the Social Security disability system.
The indictment names Robinson, Ginger Michelle Halbert, former Martin Community Center director Rita Christine Whicker — who is Robinson’s daughter — and city clerk Ethel Lee Clouse — who is still employed by the city — as defendants. All four women face charges of conspiracy, aiding and abetting theft of Social Security disability benefits, and aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft. Robinson, Halbert and Whicker also face five counts of aiding and abetting federal program fraud, while Halbert additionally faces a single count of Social Security fraud.
According to the indictment, the women were allegedly complicit in a scheme to pay secretly pay Halbert $72,000 over a five-year period for work on various projects for the city, under Robinson’s direction, even though Halbert was drawing Social Security disability benefits at the time.
“Ginger Michelle Halbert held herself out publicly as a volunteer for the city without compensation, when, in fact, by agreement with Ruth Thomasine Martin, Rita Christine Whicker and Ethel Lee Clouse, she was secretly being compensated by receiving and cashing paychecks from the city and the [Martin Community Center] made payable to her son, Jeremy Pack,” the indictment says.
The indictment further alleges that the money paid to Halbert was derived from Department of Housing and Urban Development Resident Opportunities and Self-Sufficiency program funds, designated to pay the salaries of people providing an after-school program for city children.
The conspiracy and Social Security fraud charges each carry maximum sentences of five years in prison, while the identity theft charges has a maximum penalty of two years in prison. The remaining six charges carry maximum prison terms of 10 years for each count. All nine charges additionally carry maximum fines of $250,000 for each count.
The indictment also contains a forfeiture account, seeking to force the four women to forfeit “all property, real and personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable” to the crimes, including repayment of the $72,000 paid to Halbert.
The case will be heard by U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Taylor is prosecuting the case.
All four defendants have been ordered to appear in U.S. District Court in Pikeville on Nov. 5, at 9 a.m.