ALBANY, Ga. — A Dougherty County grand jury late Wednesday returned four indictments against Dougherty County School Board member Velvet Riggins: public record fraud, two counts of theft by taking, and providing false information to obtain free school meals for a child.
Morningside Elementary School Principal Gloria Jean Baker and her husband, John Chester Baker, were also indicted.
Gloria Baker was indicted on three counts of public record fraud, two counts of theft by taking and two counts of providing false information to obtain free school meals for a child.
John Baker was indicted on two counts of public record fraud, one count of theft by taking and two counts of providing false information to obtain free lunch for a child.
Riggins is facing two felony counts: theft by taking and public records fraud. Gloria Baker is facing three felony charges: two theft by taking charges and public records fraud. John Baker is facing two felony counts: theft by taking and pubic records fraud.
All three were indicted on one misdemeanor count of providing false information to obtain free school meals for a child.
The indictments came down late Wednesday afternoon but were not released until early Thursday morning. They were signed Thursday by a Superior Court judge.
DCSS Superintendent Joshua Murfree did not respond to a request for comment. BOE Chairman James Bush expressed surprise at the felony counts against both women, but said that the legal system would take its course.
"I'm a former law enforcement officer, and I think the cases should be tried in court and a jury will decide their guilt or innocence," Bush said. "All I know about the cases is what I have read in the paper. Let's let a jury of their peers render judgment."
The cases were presented to the grand jury by South Georgia judicial Circuit District Attorney Joe Mulholland, who was appointed after Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards recused himself because he personally knew the parties involved.
Riggins was originally accused in December of last year of two counts of falsifying free and reduced school lunch applications and one felony count of offense by a public official. The Bakers were originally charged with three counts each of falsifying free lunch applications.
Riggins, the membership manager for the local South Georgia Girl Scouts, has been a BOE member since 2008 and is up for re-election this year.
Baker has been with the school system since 1980 and was promoted to assistant principal in 1993. She was promoted to principal at Albany Middle School in 2004 and was assigned to Morningside last year.
The indictments could herald the beginning of more trouble for Riggins. Mullholland said late Thursday that he was preparing to send a report to Gov. Nathan Deal today. The governor has the option of forming an administrative tribunal consisting of State Attorney General Sam Olens and two of Riggins' peers — in this case school board members from other school districts — who will review her case and forward a nonbinding recommendation to Deal.
The governor then has the option of removing her from office until the charges are resolved.
Documents obtained by The Herald from the Dougherty County School System earlier this year show roughly 81 percent of the 16,000 students in the school system are in the free or reduced-fee lunch program.
According to the application for free or reduced lunches, anyone who receives benefits from other USDA programs like SNAP or TANF are eligible for the program, as are most foster children. Children can get free meals if “your household’s gross income is within the free limits on the federal income guidelines.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture income eligibility guidelines adopted in July of last year state that for a household of three, the income cap is $24,089 per year before taxes.