Madison County

Former Madison County official pleads guilty in federal embezzlement case

Tamara Phelps
Tamara Phelps

A former Madison County official has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to charges that she stole $332,524 from a federally funded program.

Tamara Phelps, 55, of Berea entered the plea in November. The negotiated plea agreement was filed in federal court in Lexington on Wednesday.

“She’s trying to move forward through a bad situation and intends on paying back every dime that she stole,” said Jim Baechtold of Richmond, Phelps’ attorney.

The government says the money was taken between 2007 and 2015 when Phelps was finance officer for the Madison County Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program. That program educates and enhances emergency preparedness in communities surrounding the chemical weapons stockpile stored at Blue Grass Army Depot near Richmond.

The plea agreement says Phelps forged or altered purchase orders to buy items such as tablet and laptop computers and computer software. She then sold those items on eBay and kept the money, the agreement says.

Phelps also forged or altered Emergency Management Agency/CSEPP purchase orders to reimburse an EMA/CSEPP credit card after she had used the card to buy items such as vehicle parts, outdoor equipment and household products for herself.

She also forged purchase orders to use EMA/CSEPP funds to reimburse herself for expenses such as airfare, hotel bills, vehicle repairs and home repairs.

Additionally, the plea agreement says she forged timesheets to pay EMA/CSEPP funds to her family and associates.

Finally, the agreement says Phelps sold multiple emergency radio devices owned by the Madison County EMA/CSEPP on eBay and kept the money.

The punishment for these crimes is no more than 10 years in prison, a fine of not more than $250,000, and a term of supervised release of not more than three years.

An internal audit this year uncovered the theft, and Madison County Fiscal Court fired Phelps by unanimous vote May 12. Kentucky State Police charged her with forgery and theft before the case was transferred to federal court.

Phelps was charged in federal court though an “information” — a written accusation of a crime signed only by the prosecutor. It allows a criminal case to proceed without a grand jury indictment.

Carl Richards, director of the Madison County emergency management agency, was suspended after the audit and resigned in May. Madison County Judge-Executive Reagan Taylor said at the time that Richards had to be held accountable because Phelps reported to Richards.

Phelps is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves on March 23 in Lexington.