Police have accused a Roachdale woman of falsifying documents in order to receive more than $2,800 in free textbooks and meals for her four children from North Putnam schools.
In Putnam Circuit Court Friday, Cheryl Ann Hibler, 44, Roachdale, entered a not-guilty plea to a class C felony charge of welfare fraud. If convicted, she could face a possible sentence of years 2-8 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
Det. Tim Keller with the Indiana State Police told the BannerGraphic Friday that he had been investigating Hibler since July, when he received a tip that her income was more than she had reported to the school.
In court documents, Keller said he investigated Hibler's school lunch applications for 2003 and 2004 and that she had reported bi-weekly earnings of less than half of what they actually were in order to qualify for free or reduced lunches for her children.
The papers claim in 2004 she had access to $6,000 in income a month but only reported to the school monthly earnings for her family of about $1,100.
Between the meals and textbook assistance, Hibler is charged with receiving $2,830.92 police say she shouldn't have been awarded.
In April, the BannerGraphic reported on a special dedication ceremony Habitat for Humanity conducted for Hibler, who was awarded the 16th Habitat home in Putnam County, her current residence in Roachdale.
Tim Wood, treasurer for Habitat for Humanity in Putnam County, told the BannerGraphic he did not have a comment on the case.
However, according to court documents, Keller said that Wood told him Habitat had taken into consideration Hibler's future income and not what she had made in the past, prior to a recent divorce, when they decided to give her the home.
Det. Keller, who investigates white collar crimes such as computer fraud, government corruption and organized crime, said he believes school welfare fraud could be more common than most people believe.
He said schools lack the "checks and balances to catch people defrauding the system."
Keller explained applications for textbook and meal assistance only ask for parents to list an income, and do not require any supporting tax documents to validate the information.
"That's how easy it is," he said.
Hibler was arrested Thursday and taken to the Putnam County Jail. She was released on a $1,000 cash bond.