PALMYRA – A grand jury has indicted three town officials in a small southern Indiana town on welfare fraud and misconduct charges in an alleged conspiracy 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 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 don’t work full time and most barely work part time in official capacities that earn them $225 a month.
Sheriff’s investigators 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. Her husband, Ron Byerly, was charged with conspiracy to commit welfare fraud.