A federal grand jury indicted Mariama Wilson, 50, William Payne, 49, and Terrance Hardiman, 32, all of Evansville, on five counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Hardiman was also charged with one count of money laundering. The indictment was unsealed on April 26, 2023, following the three defendants’ arrests and initial appearances.
As alleged in the indictment, in Indiana, a township is a local governmental entity within a county that uses public funds to provide certain services to residents. A township is administered by an elected official called a Township Trustee. Pigeon Township is one of eight townships in Vanderburgh County. The mission of the Trustee’s Office is to provide emergency financial relief to individuals residing in Pigeon Township who need assistance paying for essentials such as rent, utilities, and prescriptions. Wilson is the elected Pigeon Township Trustee and Payne works in the Trustee’s Office as the Director of Community Relations and Shelter Coordinator.
In February 2020, Wilson and Payne agreed to hire Hardiman and his business, Hardiman Construction LLC, to remodel a homeless shelter and develop a food pantry, in exchange for Hardiman agreeing to kick back a portion of the funds that he received from the Trustee’s Office to Wilson and Payne.
As alleged in the indictment, Wilson and Payne caused the Trustee’s Office to pay inflated invoices that were submitted by Hardiman for the construction projects, and then pocketed the inflated amounts. Wilson, Payne, and Hardiman visited the homeless shelter and food pantry together, and during those visits, they identified specific projects that needed to be completed. Wilson, Payne, and Hardiman discussed how much the projects should cost and by how much Hardiman should inflate those costs to cover the kickbacks to Wilson and Payne. In general, they agreed to inflate the total amount billed in each invoice by $1,000 to $2,000.
In total, between February 11, 2020, and May 16, 2022, the Trustee’s Office paid Hardiman approximately $215,371 for the homeless shelter and food pantry projects. As a result of the kickback scheme, Wilson and Payne received approximately $38,000 in total, or approximately $19,000 each.
“Government officials who engage in corruption betray the public’s trust, for their personal gain,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, Zachary A. Myers. “Inflated invoices and kickbacks rob the taxpayers of their hard-earned money and damage the trust that citizens are entitled to have in their government. The investigation and charges announced today demonstrate our office’s commitment to work with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to root out public corruption at all levels of government.”
“I’m proud that we have honest individuals willing to report corruption when they see it, knowing that silence in the face of misconduct is not an option,” said Vanderburgh County Sheriff Noah Robinson. “The alleged crimes committed by these officials are a slap in the face to the community in which we live. This corrupt behavior runs counter to the oath they took, and certainly not what was promised to this community.”
If convicted, Wilson, Payne, and Hardiman face up to 20 years in federal prison and up to 3 years of supervised release each, as well as a fine. A federal district court judge will determine the actual sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.