A Corbin woman has pleaded guilty and is receiving a diverted prison sentence for her role in a scheme to take about $100,000, which was intended for a local charity.
On Nov. 21, 2016, Thelma Hilbert, who is now 79, and Barbara Reeves, who is now 77, both of Corbin, were indicted on 22 counts of knowingly diverting charitable gaming funds from legitimate charitable purposes or lawful expenses from the Women Helping Others Charitable Gaming Organization. They were accused of diverting $112,726.50 from the charity between June 1, 2013, and Jan. 31, 2015, according to their indictments.
Tammy Walker, who is now 51, of Williamsburg, was indicted on 10 counts of knowingly diverting charitable gaming funds from legitimate charitable purposes or lawful expenses from the same organization. She was accused of diverting a total of $3,800 from the charity between July 13, 2013, and Nov. 8, 2014, according to her indictment.
Hilbert entered a guilty plea Sept. 16 to one count of knowingly diverting charitable gaming funds from legitimate charitable purposes or lawful expenses from Women Helping Others in exchange for prosecutors recommending a five-year prison sentence that is diverted for a five-year period. During that time, Hilbert will be on supervised release.
Her plea agreement also calls for the real estate associated with Women Helping Others to be forfeited, and the organization dissolved.
Judge Paul Winchester scheduled a Nov. 18 status hearing when Hilbert will return to court so officials can make sure these things have been done.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronnie Bowling said there are also some bank accounts that will be required to be forfeited.
Bowling said the restitution amount in this case is about $100,000, and that the case was resolved through a mediation process that involved a retired circuit judge.
Bowling complimented Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Dixon, who has a background in finance and spearheaded this prosecution.
“This case was actually resolved by mediation. We got a retired judge from central Kentucky, who had no ties to either side,” Bowling said.
“Mr. Dixon did a phenomenal job making this a very simple, easy case … He was able to simplify it down to one count that he was confident we would get a conviction on. The defense had to concede there was no defense to it. The mediator agreed there was no defense to it, and that really drove it towards resolution big time.”
Bowling noted that the property, which has a high appraisal, will be put up for sale at public auction along with the contents of the building, which are fairly valuable.
Bowling said the state has a designated line item fund for such forfeitures to go into, and that his office receives 15 percent of the funds in a forfeiture account that can be used by law enforcement, for things such as supplemental supplies for police agencies, and drug awareness or outreach efforts.
“Our goal was to get the funds back into the state charitable gaming fund, and back in circulation for charitable use. If you convict her and send her to jail, you get zero dollars,” he said. “In these kinds of cases, we do need the defendant to agree to the forfeiture, and this was the easiest way to make the state whole.”
Bowling said he thinks the diverted prison sentence is appropriate in this case for a few reasons. One is that Hilbert has no prior criminal record. Another factor is that given her age, it is possible the Department of Corrections might determine that Hilbert isn’t a candidate to serve prison time.
“In a financial case, sometimes losing the money wrongfully acquired is a bigger blow than incarceration,” he added.
After the five-year diversion period, Bowling said that Hilbert will be eligible to have her record expunged.
“Even if she was convicted by a jury she would still be eligible for expungement under the new expungement bill,” Bowling added.
Bowling noted that Reeves and Walker both provided authorities with statements, have cooperated with the investigation and provided key testimony in the case.
“Their testimony was much more valuable than any conviction I could get from them. Their testimony (at the mediation) kind of tied it up in a nice little bow,” Bowling said.
Their charges, which are still pending, will be resolved later, but Hilbert and her family were the only ones, who gained financially through the scheme, Bowling said.