TERRE HAUTE —
A Carlisle husband and wife have been indicted in federal court for allegedly defrauding Jefferson Township taxpayers in Sullivan County.
Frank Mejean, 51, and Antonnette Mejean, 48, appeared handcuffed in front of Magistrate Judge Craig McKee in U.S. District Court in Terre Haute on Thursday where they waived formal arraignment and learned that a June 24 trial date has been set in their case.
Frank Mejean is the elected Jefferson Township trustee, a position he has held for more than 20 years. He hired his wife, Antonnette Mejean, to act as the township clerk and as the township investigator, as well as to perform a lawn maintenance contract for the township.
According to the indictment handed down Wednesday by a federal grand jury, the couple allegedly misappropriated Jefferson Township funds for their personal benefit by overpaying themselves for their salaries as trustee, clerk and for the lawn maintenance contract.
The couple are alleged to have used checks from the township checking account to pay personal expenses related to Frank Mejean’s plumbing business. And, they are alleged to have submitted false financial documents to the State Board of Accounts to cover up improper expenditure of township funds and to obstruct auditing efforts.
U.S. Attorney Joseph H. Hogsett announced the arrest and indictment of the couple on Thursday in a press conference following their court appearance in Terre Haute. Hogsett hailed the work of the Public Integrity Working Group, launched in April 2012 to investigate allegations of public fraud, waste and abuse by public officials in Indiana.
“Our message has been consistent over the last year, but bears repeating today: it doesn't matter to me what your politics are or what position you hold in your community," Hogsett said. "If you violate the public trust, our Public Integrity Working Group will find you, will investigate you and the U.S. Attorney's Office will then prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”
The investigation focused on the township’s financial records from 2009 through 2012 as audited by the State Board of Accounts. Senior litigation counsel Brad Blackington said that though Frank Mejean had served in public office for 23 years, the investigation had to focus on a “reasonable time period,” and it took about six months to put together the federal case against the couple.
Sullivan County Prosecutor Robert Hunley also stated that his office was aware of a 2010 state audit of the township’s 2009 records that showed the couple had overpaid themselves and paid their personal expenses with public money.
The couple repaid $42,366 to the township after that audit of 2009 records.
Included in that audit report was a handwritten statement signed by both Frank and Antonnette Majean on Sept. 13, 2010, stating that the errors in bookkeeping were unintentional and that the money had been repaid.
“I am going to resign at end of my term 12-31-2010,” the note states in part. “And I am going to pull my name off ballot for election.”
Hunley said that he was aware of the audit and of Mejean’s note.
“At that point, we thought the problem was resolved,” Hunley said.
However, Majean did not resign. Hunley said that an investigation of the couple and their handling of the township funds was ongoing at the local level when the federal investigators contacted his office about the case.
The indictment alleges that Frank Mejean was overpaid more than $47,000 from 2009 through 2012; that Antonnette Mejean was overpaid more than $23,870; and that the lawn care contract was overpaid by more than $22,400.
According to the indictment, both defendants face three counts of wire fraud. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to 20 years in federal prison, orderd to pay fines and placed under federal supervision.
At the conclusion of the Thursday’s hearing, McKee released the couple from custody pending trial. But he ordered them to report Monday to the U.S. Probation Office to submit to pretrial supervision.
McKee also ordered that neither the trustee nor the clerk handle any financial transaction for the township while the federal action is pending.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.