Martin, Ky., mayor convicted in disability-fraud case

bestep@herald-leader.comFebruary 26, 2014 

A federal jury has convicted the former mayor of a small Eastern Kentucky town in a disability-fraud case.

Jurors convicted Ruth Thomasine Robinson, 69, former mayor of Martin, and her daughter, Rita Christine Whicker, 42, former director of the community center in the town of 600, on charges of conspiracy, fraud, theft of disability benefits and aggravated identity theft, according to U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey.

Ginger Michelle Halbert, 42, who worked for Robinson, pleaded guilty before the trial to charges of conspiracy, theft of benefits and identity theft.

The three took part in a scheme to pay Halbert secretly so that she could continue to receive federal disability benefits, according to court records.

From 2006 until January 2013, the city and community center issued checks payable to Halbert's son, which Halbert endorsed in his name and cashed, according to court records and Harvey's office.

Some of the money came from a fund that was supposed to pay for an after-school program for children at the community center.

The city's bookkeeper, Ethel Clouse, was charged in the case, but the charges were dismissed at trial this week in Pikeville, according to Harvey's office.

Robinson lost re-election in November 2012.

Halbert is scheduled to be sentenced in June; Robinson and Whicker, in July, according to a release from Harvey's office. Some charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years.

In a separate case, Robinson, her daughter, her husband and two others are charged with conspiring to intimidate voters in the November 2012 election.

People charged in the case allegedly had residents of the city's subsidized housing request absentee ballots, then told them which names to check, or took the ballots and filled them out.Robinson, her husband and others also allegedly paid voters.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Halbert was charged in that case, but the charges are to be dismissed as part of her plea deal in the disability-fraud case, according to a court record.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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