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Palmyra officials formally indicted

A Harrison County grand jury formally indicted three current Palmyra government officials, a former Palmyra town manager and a spouse of one of the officials Friday afternoon.
Palmyra town council president Virginia (Jenny) Kirkham and her husband, Ron Byerly, Palmyra town council member Paul Eveslage, Palmyra clerk-treasurer Tiffany Cardwell and former town manager Cheri Banet were part of the indictment.
As the person who reported the wrongdoing, Alvin Brown, the third Palmyra town council member, was not indicted.
‘It’s a real sad day in Palmyra,’ Brown said Friday afternoon. ‘We’ve had more problems in Palmyra than all the other towns in Southern Indiana.
‘Public officials and elected officials need to set a standard for people,’ he said. ‘What’s happened, it just doesn’t look good.’
Eveslage, Banet, Cardwell and Byerly were each charged with Class D felony conspiracy to commit welfare fraud. Eveslage, Kirkham, Banet and Cardwell also were charged with Class D felony official misconduct, and Kirkham also was charged with Class C felony welfare fraud.
Bond was set at $1,000 each for Kirkham, Cardwell, Banet and Eveslage. Byerly was to receive a notice to appear in Harrison Superior Court.
‘With the exception of one (town official), these individuals were elected by their peers, indicted by their peers and now they’re going to be either convicted or acquitted by their peers,’ Harrison County Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk said.
According to court documents, Kirkham allegedly failed to disclose income earned from cleaning services for the Town of Palmyra and beautician work completed out of her home when applying for and receiving unemployment benefit payments which resulted in an overpayment of more than $2,500. The alleged actions took place between Jan. 17, 2011, and April 3, 2012.
Cardwell is named because she allegedly wrote checks to Byerly for work she knew he did not perform so that income earned did not have to be reported by Kirkham.
Eveslage is named because he approved claims to pay Byerly.
Brown said he believes Banet was ‘the mastermind of the whole thing.’
‘She stirred up more trouble,’ Brown said of the former town manager. ‘I asked questions and she didn’t like it and then (she) tried to intimidate me.’
He said he knew the welfare fraud was going on and tried to talk to those charged, but they wouldn’t listen.
‘(Banet) told me I worried too much, and the clerk-treasurer said it was between (Kirkham) and her husband,’ Brown said. ‘I’m not sure (Kirkham) knew she was doing anything illegal.’
Brown admitted that he agreed to the claims as they were presented to the board but decided to take action because it was the right thing to do.
‘I reported it to the state board of accounts,’ he said. ‘Last summer, (Banet) assured me she’d checked into it and it was all legal. I reported it April 28 after I’d finally got the gumption up to get to the bottom of it.’
Banet’s final day working for the town was Sept. 4. Brown said she was laid off because she earned too much money and the town didn’t need a town manager in addition to a part-time utility clerk.
‘We had too many employees,’ Brown said. ‘With her salary and benefits, she made more than $50,000, easy.’
Earlier this year, Banet, who had been the town’s manager since 2009, read seven complaints she’d filed against Brown during a June 14 meeting. During the readings, she quoted Brown allegedly using profane language on numerous occasions, making racial slurs and saying negative things about his fellow council members.
Last month, Banet filed a tort claim notice against the Town of Palmyra, alleging that an Aug. 31, 2012, meeting by two members of the Palmyra Town Council, which eventually led to her dismissal as town manager, violated the Open Door Law.
The six-member grand jury was convened Oct. 2. Each of the accused had an opportunity to testify before the grand jury, though it’s not known who did, or didn’t, exercise that right.
A grand jury hears only the prosecution’s side of a case to determine whether or not there’s enough evidence to charge someone with a crime.
The next meeting of the Palmyra Town Council is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 13, at 7:30 p.m.