Former Kentucky social worker pleads guilty to falsifying records

LAWRENCEBURG — A former Kentucky state social worker pleaded guilty Tuesday in Anderson Circuit Court to charges that she falsified records in abuse and neglect cases.

Margaret "Geri" Murphy, 61, who resigned in January 2011, entered the plea to nine counts of tampering with public records in her role investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

As part of a plea agreement, she would receive a five-year sentence on each count. The sentences would run concurrently, meaning Murphy would serve a total of five years. Assistant Attorney General Barbara Whaley said after the hearing that she would oppose probation, instead asking for the five-year sentence.

Anderson Circuit Judge Charles Hickman scheduled sentencing for July 24.

Murphy's attorney, William Patrick, declined to comment.

Murphy entered the plea for her role as a front-line worker investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect in Anderson County, according to officials from the office of Attorney General Jack Conway, who prosecuted the case.

Reports of child abuse and neglect are assigned to a social worker to investigate and then file a report finding the abuse or neglect is substantiated or unsubstantiated.

In all nine investigations mentioned in the indictment, Murphy documented that child abuse or neglect was unsubstantiated.

In pleading guilty, Murphy admitted she falsified her reports in all of those investigations, which were conducted from April 2006 to October 2010, the attorney general's office said.

Among those investigations were the following cases:

■ Murphy said a man accused of sexually abusing a 7-year-old denied the abuse during an interview with police and passed a polygraph. The man was never interviewed and did not take a polygraph.

■ Murphy falsely documented that she and police had interviewed a father accused of sexually abusing his 11-year-old child, and she said he passed a polygraph. The father was never interviewed and had never taken a polygraph examination.

■ In a report of sexual abuse of an infant by the mother's boyfriend, Murphy admitted to falsely documenting that a hair in the baby's diaper was found to be from a dog rather than a human. The hair had never been tested.

■ In a report that parents were providing drugs to their child, trading food stamp access for drugs and not providing enough food for the child, Murphy documented that she visited the home, found no evidence of drugs and found the home well-stocked with food — enough for two weeks, including meats, vegetables, and snacks. Murphy admitted she never visited the home, officials in Conway's office said.

Conway's office began investigating after receiving a complaint from a person whose family was in a court case to which Murphy had been assigned.

Murphy was issued a criminal summons in August after being indicted by an Anderson County grand jury. Tampering with public records is a Class D felony punishable by one to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 on each count.

"Margaret Murphy had a responsibility to actually investigate allegations of child abuse or neglect assigned to her, to substantiate those that merited it and take action to protect children who are living in abusive homes," Conway said in a statement Tuesday. "Murphy not only failed these innocent children, she failed her fellow social workers who work tirelessly to protect our youngest and most vulnerable citizens."

Murphy's cases have been reviewed to ensure that appropriate action was taken in accordance with the policies and procedures of the agency, Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the cabinet said in October.

Tabitha Stratton of Anderson County previously told the Herald-Leader that she contacted the attorney general's office after she read in case files that Murphy said she had been to Stratton's home and interviewed her and her husband. But Stratton said Murphy had never spoken to her.

Stratton, who was at Tuesday's hearing, said she was relieved to hear that Murphy pleaded guilty.

"Unfortunately the damage is done, and it will take years for these children and families to recover from the traumatic experience," Stratton said.

After the hearing, Whaley said, "We are pleased with the admission of guilt. We feel like it's important that she acknowledged that these reports were falsified, every one of them involving child physical or sexual abuse."