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Investigation nets welfare fraud arrest

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

A Gas City woman is facing welfare fraud charges after investigators with the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) said she took in $37,605 in fraudulent food stamp benefits over six years.

According to court documents, Cotey J. Terry, 33, repeatedly told the state that she lived alone with her three children.

But FSSA Investigator Billy Kreider said Charles Smith, the father of one of Terry's children, was actually living with her and contributing to the household's income.

Kreider's investigation discovered tax returns, employer records, auto loan records and home loan application documents on which Smith listed the same address as Terry.

Kreider also said Smith, Terry and Terry's family members confirmed Smith was living at the same address as Terry.

According to court documents, at first, back in 2011, Terry had informed the FSSA that Smith and their newborn child had started living with her at their home in Marion, but shortly afterward she claimed he had moved out.

Terry had been receiving $598 per month in food stamp benefits. But after she told the Division of Family Resources (DFR) that Smith had joined her household, her benefits dropped to $192 per month.

Two months later in August 2011, Terry claimed Smith was no longer living with her, according to Kreider. Terry's monthly food stamp benefits went up to $668 per month.

Terry continued to report, during frequent eligibility checks, that she lived alone with her three children in Marion until April 2017, when she informed the state she and her children had moved in with Smith to a home on East North B Street in Gas City. Her food stamp benefits were then terminated due to Smith's income.

Terry's move to Gas City wasn't reported until a year after the move likely took place, according to Kreider's investigation.

While Terry was claiming she and her three children were living in Marion in 2016, Smith's tax returns, the children's school records and the couple's joint application for utility services said otherwise, according to court documents.

Neighbors interviewed by Kreider also said Terry and her three children had been living at the Gas City home “consistently” since early 2016.

Terry also claimed she had to move across the street from Smith from a period between 2013 and 2016 because their relationship was “hostile.”

But Kreider discovered a social media post that suggested otherwise.

“On or about the 14th day of February 2014 Cotey Terry announced on her Facebook page she received a ring and had become engaged to be married to Charles Smith, which contradicts the assertion that their relationship was hostile during this period,” Kreider said.

Investigators also found joint applications for loans and a joint title and registration of a vehicle the couple had purchased together in 2014.

Family members confirmed the two lived together for the period in question, according to court documents.

According to court documents, a member of the public reported Terry to the DFR, sparking a formal fraud investigation in 2016. A warrant was issued last year for Terry's arrest.

Terry was arrested on Friday and booked into the Grant County Jail. She has since been released on a cash bond.