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News in Brief

Crop insurance agent accused of defrauding taxpayers

LEXINGTON (AP) — A crop insurance agent in Kentucky is facing federal charges alleging she defrauded taxpayers of $169,000 by helping farmers inflate tobacco crop losses and collect insurance money and then helping them sell their burley at market.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports Debra Muse of Fleming County was indicted recently on one felony count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and 27 felony counts of making false statements on crop-insurance statements and reports.

Muse’s lawyer, John Helmuth of Lexington, had no comment on Monday.

The indictment appears to be the first issued since a federal investigation into crop insurance fraud became public in 2015.

The alleged conspiracy at the heart of that investigation involved central Kentucky tobacco farmers, crop insurance agents, crop insurance adjustors and tobacco warehouse owners/employees.

The investigation became public when federal agents raided tobacco warehouses and other locations in Montgomery County, including one Mount Sterling warehouse where Muse was a seasonal worker.

The fraud detailed in the indictment allegedly occurred in late 2014 and early 2015 when Muse is accused of causing insurance indemnity payments to be made in the amounts of $6,144 to one grower, $139,456 to a second, and $23,651 to a third. The false insurance claims were ultimately reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the indictment says.

The three co-conspiring farmers are identified only by initials and are not named or charged in the indictment.

In each case, Muse caused insurance payments to be paid on claims that “falsely inflated” the amount of tobacco losses the growers suffered, the indictment says.

In addition to her work as a crop insurance agent, Muse had been employed as a seasonal worker since 2001 at Clay’s Tobacco Warehouse in Mount Sterling, which accepts tobacco for purchase and resale.

As part of her responsibilities at the warehouse, Muse was responsible for entering information into a software program that tracks the purchase, sale and shipment of tobacco.

The purpose of the conspiracy was to profit through the filing of false and fictitious insurance claims and the sale of unreported tobacco, the indictment says.

In her capacity as crop insurance agent, Muse obtained crop insurance policies for her client farmers. Those farmers, “at the urging of and with help” from Muse, filed false claims, the indictment says.

“Co-conspiring farmers profited under the scheme because they were paid twice for each pound of tobacco: once through the false crop insurance claim, and also through the sale of the unreported hidden tobacco,” the indictment says.

Muse profited by collecting the original insurance commission and by retaining and expanding the business of her crop insurance clients and securing business for her employer, Clay’s Tobacco Warehouse, the indictment says.

Muse is scheduled to appear in federal court on Oct. 23.

2 women, 3 inmates charged in plan to bring drugs into jail

FRANKLIN (AP) — Five people are accused of conspiring to smuggle an opioid prescription drug into a Kentucky jail, leading to the jail’s reinstatement of a ban on outside prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs.

Simpson County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Eddie Lawson told The Daily News of Bowling Green that two women are accused of illegally obtaining Suboxone and concealing it in an over-the-counter analgesic bottle to be given to 28-year-old Daniel Watkins, who had been medically approved to receive the analgesic. Lawson says he started investigating while listening to jail phone calls involving another case.

Lawson said Watkins received the drugs the night of Sept. 22 and either used or destroyed it before a cell search.

Watkins and two other inmates, 28-year-old Michael Whitney and 32-year-old Kenneth Biggs, were charged Sunday with first-degree promoting contraband and engaging in organized crime.

Whitney’s sister, 26-year-old Melissa Whitney, is accused of taking the drugs into the jail and was charged Saturday with the same offenses. A warrant has been issued for 25-year-old Amanda Farris for the same charges, as well as first-degree wanton child endangerment. Farris is accused of having her infant child in the car while the drugs were being delivered to the jail.

It’s unclear if they have lawyers.

Simpson County Jailer Eric Vaughn says the jail has reinstated a ban on families bringing outside prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs to the jail. He said inmates who need prescriptions can go through health provider Southern Health Partners.

UofL offering economic development forum in Louisville

LOUISVILLE (AP) — The University of Louisville is planning an economic development forum that will focus on strategies and available resources to help rebuild and sustain communities.

The public event offered by UofL’s College of Arts and Sciences is set for Nov. 2 and will concentrate on issues facing west Louisville.

The forum will be at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in Louisville. The program will run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Advance registration is required by Oct. 22.

Forum breakout sessions will focus on creative financing for individual and large construction projects, economic opportunities for minority-owned firms, successful neighborhood planning and access to lending opportunities.

Panelists will include developers, financiers, entrepreneurs and government and community group representatives.

Louisville’s ‘Hometown Heroes’ campaign coming to end

LOUISVILLE (AP) — For years, Louisville has been putting banners on buildings to honor its hometown heroes. Now city officials say the campaign is coming to an end.

Officials tell The Courier-Journal that the Hometown Heroes campaign sponsored by the nonprofit Greater Louisville Pride Foundation has served its purpose and they’re putting it to bed.

The first image went up in 2002 when Muhammad Ali’s face was displayed on a building overlooking the Ohio River. The 30th image — of the late attorney Alberta Jones — was dedicated Monday. Jones was a civil-rights activist and the first African-American woman to pass the Kentucky bar. She was also Ali’s lawyer.

Before ending the campaign, the Pride Foundation has in mind at least three more images of Louisville born and bred individuals to honor.