Pigeon Twsp. Trustee, 2 others took thousands in taxpayer money, federal officials say
EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies held a press conference Wednesday to unseal a federal indictment on three people, including Pigeon Township Trustee Mariama Wilson.
Officials say it’s related to the FBI investigation of the Pigeon Township Trustee we told you about back in July.
Authorities say Wilson, 49-year-old William Payne and 32-year-Terrance Hardiman all face federal charges.
Payne is an employee at the Pigeon Township Trustee’s Office. Hardiman is a contractor the Trustee’s Office hired to remodel a nearby family center.
Officials say they took thousands of dollars in taxpayer money in a kickback scheme.
According to the indictment, the Trustee’s Office hired Hardiman and Hardiman Construction LLC to remodel Dorathea MacGregor Family Shelter. Authorities say that agreement was corrupt.
According to federal officials, Wilson, Payne and Hardiman agreed to overcharge the Trustee’s Office with inflated invoices. Then, Hardiman would take the extra money and hand off envelopes full of cash to Wilson and Payne.
Investigators say there were 11 invoices between Feb. 2020 and May 2022 totaling $215,371.
Officials say Wilson and Payne received a combined $38,000 in these transactions.
“Public office is a public trust,” said Zachary Myers, a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. “We are given authority and we are given money. It is not our authority, and it is not our money. What it was not intended for is inflated contracts procured through corruption. And what it was not intended for is envelopes of cash in the hands of people who were supposed to work for the public.”
Myers said in a press conference that Wilson, Payne and Hardiman have all had their initial appearance in federal court, and all entered initial not-guilty pleas.
“This investigation and prosecution demonstrate our ongoing commitment to combatting public corruption and defending tax dollars,” said Myers.
If found guilty and convicted, each faces up to 20 years in prison, and up to three years of supervised release, as well as a fine. Each person would also have to forfeit any property that was derived from funds they made as a result of the alleged events.
14 News reached out to the Pigeon Township Trustee’s Office to see if Wilson is still in charge of operations. Employees said their contracts do not allow them to comment on that.
On Wednesday morning, an employee told our crew that Wilson would be in the office Thursday.
Some residents were left wondering if the trustee’s services would still be offered.
“I was going to call them and set up an appointment tomorrow,” said Jack Kimmel. “I heard your newscast and was just kind of wondering, ‘What happens now?’”
We spoke with trustees elsewhere in the county who say under no circumstances would the Trustee’s Office not be able to provide assistance.
When an explosion took out Knight Township’s office, they went as far as to provide services from a tent.
14 News reached out to Wilson for comment and have not heard back.
We also looked into what the protocols might be if Wilson were removed.
There are extensive protocols for how that role is filled in the Trustee Handbook found on the State Board of Accounts’ website.
It states that the Trustee is to designate someone to take over if they are absent from the township or incapacitated.
That person would stay in place until the trustee returns or the county commission instates an acting trustee.
It also outlines how trustees can be removed.
It states that 25 or more resident freeholders in the township can file a petition alleging that the trustee is incapable of performing due to mental or physical incapacity.
In such a case, the county commission has five days to fill the role.
In 2022, Senate Bill 304 was also passed, which “provides that the township board, county executive, and county fiscal body may adopt resolutions to collectively petition a court to remove a township trustee from office for committing certain violations.”
14 News has reached out to the communications director for Indiana State Representative Ryan Hatfield who voted in favor of that bill. We wanted to ask Hatfield about the Pigeon Township situation because he is the township’s attorney. We have not yet received a reply.
Security video shows law enforcement at the Pigeon Township Trustee’s office on Tuesday.
You can watch the entire news conference from Wednesday in the video below:
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