ALBANY, Ga. — An Albany woman accused of lying to the state about her housing situation so that she could continue to get public assistance was convicted Thursday by a Dougherty County jury.
Carol Ann Johnson must spend the next five years on probation and repay the $5,093 she was convicted of bilking from the state, as well as pay a $1,000 fine, following sentencing by Chief Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette.
Johnson was indicted on charges that she hid her marriage from the state of Georgia so that she could qualify for a housing subsidy that, at times, paid for all but $11 of her monthly rent, Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards said.
Johnson was one of about 80 people on housing assistance who were part of a sweep in 2010 conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Inspector General. Of those, Edwards estimates that "five or six" remain in the legal process awaiting trial.
"She was a part of that roundup and has been one of the few who had maintained her innocence throughout," Edwards said.
Edwards has been receiving some criticism for spending two years to bring Johnson, who was convicted of fraudulently obtaining $5,093 in subsidies, to trial.
"Yeah, I'm aware of the criticisms, but we do these types of cases really because of two reasons. One, the taxpayers are the victims, so we seek to bring justice to them in hopes that ultimately the money that was taken gets paid back and, two, because you have to police this stuff or people will continually attempt to abuse the system and deprive those who have a legitimate need and are following the rules," Edwards said. "In this case, Mrs. Johnson executed her right to a trial and maintained her innocence rather than owning up to what she did."
Edwards said that before the case went to trial, he offered Johnson a deal to accept responsibility and pay the money back, but she refused to accept it. Once the matter came to court, he said, he pushed for jail time "to deter others from taking advantage of the system."
Between August 2007 and July 2008 the state issued more than $5,000 in housing assistance on Johnson's behalf based on a program application in which she checked boxes indicating that she was single despite the fact that she married Kevin Ashberry in March 2005. Ashberry was called as a government witness during the trial, but invoked his spousal immunity in refusing to testify against Johnson.
Johnson's attorneys argued unsuccessfully that Johnson had no control over Ashberry's actions, including when he changed his mailing address to her home on Malone Drive and changed the address on his vehicle registration to Johnson's house.