Disability fraud trial delayed again

Ralph B. Davis rdavis@civitasmedia.com

January 14, 2014

PIKEVILLE — The disability fraud trial against former Martin Mayor Ruth Thomasine Robinson and three others has been delayed again, this time because to her attorney’s difficulty in meeting with Robinson, due to the holidays, bad weather and Robinson’s health problems.

Robinson’s attorney, Steve Owens, requested the delay in a motion filed Jan. 7. Owens argued that the delay was necessary due to difficulties in meeting with his client due to bad weather and the holidays, as well as Robinson’s ongoing treatment for lung cancer.

Owens’ motion also contained another bit of news related to the case.

“In addition to the foregoing, it is anticipated that at least one co-defendant will enter a plea before the scheduled trial date,” Owens wrote in his motion. “The additional time requested and needed to be fully prepared is anticipated to be 30 to 40 days.”

The motion does not identify which defendant might be considering a plea deal with prosecutors.

During a telephone conference Friday with attorneys, U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar agreed to reschedule the trial for Feb. 24. The case was originally scheduled to go to trial Jan. 6, and was later moved to Jan. 21.

However, Thapar appeared to be losing patience with the continued requests for delay.

“The Court will not look favorably on any further continuances absent a particularly compelling need,” Thapar wrote in his order. “This is the second continuance in this case, and the case has not been declared complex.”

Robinson, Ginger Michelle Halbert, Rita Christine Whicker — who is Robinson’s daughter and worked for the Housing Authority of Martin— and city clerk Ethel Lee Clouse — who is still employed by the city — 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.

Robinson and Halbert are also defendants in another case, along with Robinson’s husband, James “Red” Robinson; Robinson’s step-son, James Steven Robinson; Johnny T. Moore; and Henry A. Mulins, in which they are each charged with a single count of civil rights conspiracy. Ruth Thomasine Robinson, James “Red” Robinson, Moore and Mullins also each face a single count of vote-buying, while James Steven Robinson is charged with three counts of vote-buying. Halbert is the only defendant not charged with vote-buying.

According to the indictment in the second case, the six allegedly conspired to induce public housing residents and tenants renting homes owned by the former mayor to vote for her by absentee ballot, using an already completed ballot, during her 2010 re-election bid. Some of the voters were allegedly told they could get better apartments if they voted for Ruth Thomasine Robinson, while others were allegedly told they would face eviction if they did not. And the indictment alleges the defendants backed up those threats.

Judge Thapar’s ruling on Friday has no effect on the second case.