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UPDATE: Former Martin mayor's step-son arrested for threatening witnesses in federal investigation

By: Hillary Thornton, Tanner Hesterberg Email
By: Hillary Thornton, Tanner Hesterberg Email
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MARTIN, Ky. (WYMT) - UPDATE 10/26/13

New developments in the federal case against the former mayor of Martin, as her step-son was arrested when officials say he threatened witnesses in the investigation.

James "Stevie" Robinson is now in jail after a FBI agent and an agent from the Kentucky Attorney General's Office arrested him late Friday afternoon in Floyd County.

Floyd County Attorney Keith Bartley says, "He is charged with retaliation against a witness in the federal investigation that's been ongoing in Martin for the past year. He is also charged with wanton endangerment for his efforts to attempt to bring harm to a witness in that same investigation."

As officials conducted their investigation that led to the federal indictment of former mayor, Thomasine Robinson, and 3 others including her daughter ... they found serious threats were being made to witnesses.

"I think all the court systems both the federal and state, take those extremely serious. I think Mr. Robinson will find this was even more serious because you have an ongoing joint investigation between the FBI and Kentucky Attorney General's Office and they are simply not going to stand by and let people attempt to influence what witnesses are going to say or what they are going to do in that investigation. That is why Mr. Robinson finds himself in jail this morning," explains Bartley.

Bartley says it is clear the attempt by Robinson was to also prevent even more information from coming out in what is still an ongoing investigation, "These efforts by Stevie Robinson are aimed at preventing witnesses from testifying not only in this case but in any others that come from this investigation, and I think there will be others."

Stevie Robinson's father, James Robinson, was arrested and charged last November with menacing and terroristic threatening after he made threats to current Martin mayor, Sam Howell, after Howell defeated Robinson's wife, Thomasine, in last year's election.

Stevie Robinson is currently in the Floyd County Detention Center, being held on a $500,000 cash bond. He is already on probation and parole for being convicted of a federal crime in another state.

Robinson declined our request for an interview.

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Four people who worked for the Floyd County city of Martin - including the former mayor and her daughter - were indicted Thursday on fraud charges.

Former mayor Thomasine Robinson and three others misused federal money and participated in a scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's office said.

The nine-count indictment targets Robinson, her daughter and former Martin Community Center director Rita Whicker, former city employee Ginger Halbert and city bookkeeper Ethel Clouse.

"It's kind of shocking," Martin city councilman James Reynolds said. "It kind of gives the town a black eye."

The four women are charged with conspiring and social security fraud, misappropriating money from a federal program and aggravated identity theft.

If convicted, they could spend at least two years in prison on each count.

"It is what it is," Reynolds said. "It's a terrible situation. I hate it for all parties involved. But if they did everything it says they were indicted for, they're like anyone else, they'll have to pay for their crimes."

The indictment casts the town in a bad light, city leaders said.

"I feel bad for the city," said former Martin mayor Alan Whicker. "I feel bad for all the people involved in it. And if the charges are true and they are found guilty, then they should face the punishment that is handed down to them."

Robinson was voted out of office by three votes in November 2012.

The four women will be arraigned Nov. 5 in federal court in Pikeville.

A copy of the indictment is attached to this story.
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Original Story, 10/24/13, 1:00 p.m.

A former mayor of Martin, Ky., her daughter, and two other city employees have been indicted for engaging in a scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration (SSA) and to misapply federal funds.

The federal indictment filed on Wednesday names former Martin Mayor Ruth Thomasine Robinson, 69; her daughter, Rita Christine Whicker, 42, who formerly directed the Martin Community Center; Ginger Michelle Halbert, 42, a volunteer city employee who worked closely with Robinson; and Ethel Lee Clouse, 68, the bookkeeper for the city.

All four defendants have been charged with conspiracy to defraud the SSA, an agency of the United States; theft of social security disability benefits; and aggravated identity theft. Halbert, Whicker, and Robinson were also charged with misappropriating money from a federal program. The final count of the indictment charges Halbert with knowingly failing to report her employment and earnings to the Social Security Administration.

According to the indictment, from 2006 until January 2013, Halbert, who purportedly worked on a volunteer basis, was secretly being paid with federal funds that were primarily intended for the Martin Community Center and the Martin Housing Authority. To conceal the scheme, the defendants allegedly arranged for the checks to be made payable to Halbert's son.

The indictment further alleges that Halbert, who was receiving social security disability benefits, intentionally failed to notify SSA of her earned income from the city of Martin. Under federal law, anyone who receives disability benefits is limited in the amount of money he or she can receive from another source and all income must be reported to the SSA so it can properly determine eligibility for benefits.

Kerry B. Harvey, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Perrye Turner, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Guy Fallen, Special Agent in Charge, Social Security Administration, Office of the Investigator General, Office of Investigations, and Jack Conway, Attorney General of Kentucky, jointly made the announcement today.

The investigation preceding the indictment was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Social Security Administration, and the Attorney General's Office. The indictment was presented to the grand jury by Assistant United States Attorney Kenneth R. Taylor.

The defendants' appearance before the United States District Court has not yet been set by the Court in Pikeville. The charges of conspiracy and social security fraud carry a maximum of 5 years in prison; the charge of misappropriating money from a federal program carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison; and the aggravated identity theft charge has a mandatory minimum penalty of two years in prison upon a conviction.

The indictment of a person by a grand jury is an accusation only, and that person is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.


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