Updated: November 17, 2012 11:17PM
PALMYRA (AP) — A grand jury has indicted three town officials in a small southern Indiana community on welfare fraud and misconduct charges for allegedly conspiring with two other people to defraud the state of unemployment benefits.
The charges were filed Friday, a day after the town of Palmyra’s clerk-treasurer and two council members were indicted along with the former town manager and a council member’s husband.
Prosecutors allege the five took part in a scheme in which town council member Virginia Kirkham cleaned the town hall and a senior center but the payments for the cleaning work were made in Kirkham’s husband’s name, so she could keep collecting unemployment benefits.
County Prosecutor Otto Schalk told The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., for a Saturday story that the town paid some $1,600 to $2,000 for the cleaning. He said that may not seem like a lot of money, but it’s troubling that most of the leadership in the town of 930 residents was involved in the alleged scheme.
“We have the entire town management that was involved in this. The money isn’t the alarming point. It’s that we have public officials that have done this” with taxpayer money, he said Friday.
Council members in the town about 25 miles northwest of Louisville don’t work full time and most barely work part time in official capacities that earn them $225 per month.
Investigators from the county sheriff’s department and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development opened a probe last August. As part of their investigation, workforce development investigators also found that Kirkham allegedly failed to report more than $13,000 in receipts related to a hairstyling business she operated.
Former town manager Cheri Banet, current Palmyra clerk-treasurer Tiffany Cardwell and town council member Paul Eveslage each face single felony counts of conspiracy to commit welfare fraud and official misconduct.
Kirkham was charged with felony welfare fraud and official misconduct, while her husband, Ron Byerly, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit welfare fraud.
Kirkham declined to comment to the Courier-Journal and said her husband had nothing to say. A telephone number for the couple was not listed.
Banet referred questions to her lawyer, David Deal of Indianapolis, who did not return a phone message left Saturday by The Associated Press.
But Eveslage told the Courier-Journal the allegations are “all lies.” And Cardwell told the newspaper she had done “nothing criminal” and added that the facts would eventually come out.
“I hate to see the town have to go through this process,” she said.
Fellow town councilman Alvin Brown, who said he tipped off authorities about the alleged scheme, said Kirkham and Eveslage should resign immediately, pending the outcome of the criminal cases.