South Georgia Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Heather Lanier hands Dougherty County School Police Assistant Chief J.C. Phillips copies of lunch applications during the opening of DCSS School Board member Velvet Riggins’ lunch fraud trial in Dougherty Superior Court on Tuesday.
ALBANY, Ga. -- The trial of suspended Dougherty County School Board member Velvet Riggins got under way on Tuesday in Superior Court Judge's Stephen Goss courtroom with an eight-woman, four-man jury being seated and opening remarks made in her lunch fraud case.
The panel, consisting of eight blacks and four whites, will consider four counts that Riggins falsified a school lunch application during the 2011-12 school year.
"She broke a promise by allowing her children to obtain free meals they were not qualified for," South Georgia Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Heather Lanier told the jury in her opening remarks.
"This was not a simple mistake that was made on Sept. 20 and Oct. 24. There is more evidence than just these two applications."
Riggins' attorney Mark Brimberry then addressed the jury.
"I had my opening prepared, but after I heard Ms. Lanier, I said 'nah, nah,' so I will go unscripted," Brimberry said. "This is not that complicated of a case, it leads me to think of 'mens rea,' or criminal intent. Remember there are two sides to every story and this case will really boil down to just one question: Do you think Ms. Riggins filled out that application on Sept. 20, 2011 with criminal intent?
"And also remember she filled out that application as a parent, not as a school board member."
Riggins is facing four counts -- two felonies and two misdemeanors -- resulting from an April grand jury indictment alleging she fraudulently filled out a school lunch application to obtain free or reduced meals for her two children in the DCSS.
In July, Gov. Nathan Deal suspended Riggins from office pending outcome of her trial.
DCSS Assistant Police Chief J.C. Phillips, the lead investigator in the case, took the stand as the state's first witness.
Phillips testified that he was investigating Morningside Elementary Principal Gloria Baker, who was arrested on similar charges just before Riggins, when he received a tip on the school board member.
"I began looking into Ms. Riggins applications as a result of the other case," Phillips recalled. "I got a tip and decided to look at her lunch applications."
Phillips testified that he discovered an application dated Sept. 20 of last year in which Riggins listed an income of just $9,066. Then, just more than a month later she submitted a second application listing an income of $39,053 -- which included her $30,000 salary from the Girl Scouts. This income figure and was more in line with her previous lunch applications from other school years, Phillips said.
"It was a pretty clear and obvious discrepancy," Phillips said.
When Lanier said she had no further question for Phillips, Goss recessed court until 9 a.m. today, when Brimberry will have the opportunity to cross-examine.