PIKEVILLE — Three days before she was scheduled to go on trial, Ginger Michelle Halbert stood before U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward B. Atkins and pleaded guilty to charges that she defrauded the Social Security Administration.
Halbert pleaded guilty to three counts of the nine counts she was facing, including conspiracy, federal program fraud and aggravated identity theft. In addition, she also acknowledged her guilt of one count of theft of Social Security benefits, without pleading guilty to that charge.
Under questioning from Atkins, Halbert admitted to working for the city of Martin but receiving paychecks in her son’s name so that she could continue to disability benefits.
The plea deal offered no agreement between the two sides in terms of sentencing, except to say that Halbert will be responsible for repaying the disability payments that were improperly paid to her. According to the indictment, that figure totals approximately $72,000.
Maximum prison sentences for the charges to which Halbert pleaded guilty include five years for the conspiracy charge, 10 years for the fraud charge, and two years for identity theft charge. The identity theft sentence must additionally be served consecutive to any other sentence she receives.
Halbert was one of four women charged in the scheme, but is the only one to have reached a deal with prosecutors. The trial for the others charged — former Mayor Ruth Thomasine Robinson; Robinson’s daughter, former Martin Community Center director Rita Christine Whicker; and Martin city clerk Ethel Lee Clouse — began Monday.
According to the indictment against them, 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.
In exchange for her plea, the prosecution has agreed to drop the remaining six counts against Halbert, as well as a pending conspiracy charge against her and five others in a separate vote-buying case.
In that case, Halbert; Robinson; her husband, James “Red” Robinson; her step-son, James S. Robinson; Whicker; Henry Mullins; Johnny Moore are accused of conspiring to offer public housing residents better apartments in exchange for their votes for former Mayor Robinson in her 2012 re-election campaign, as well as threatening those who did not vote for her with eviction. Of the six defendants, Halbert was the only who did not also face at least one count of vote-buying.
Former Mayor Robinson lost that race by three votes.
The vote-buying case is currently scheduled to go to trial March 10, but Mullins filed a motion Friday seeking a continuance.
Halbert will be sentenced June 4.