Former Covington Shop Owner Gets 5+ Years for Food Stamp Fraud
At last, nearly three years to the day after she was arrested, Phyllis Tyler appeared in a courtroom, admitting what she had done.
Her guilt had been so obvious that a federal prosecutor said Thursday that the U.S. government was surprised that the case went to trial.
But it did go to trial, and along the way, Tyler concocted a variety of reasons that the Covington Police raided her A&E Fashion & Beauty (or A&E All Things & More as it was also known) on the 800 block of Madison Avenue on August 1, 2014. The cops were targeting her for racist reasons, she'd say. But as one lie fell apart, another lie would be constructed.
She maintained her innocence against charges food stamp fraud and money laundering - in which she would buy customers' EBT cards for around fifty cents on the dollar and then use those cards at Kroger and Sam's Club to stock her store, a scheme that ultimately totaled more than $400,000 illegally circulating through the tiny shop and multiple Tyler bank accounts.
She was arrested after police raided the store and days later, stormed into The River City News's previous office on Greenup Street demanding that her mugshot be removed from the news story. She was innocent, she said. The Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office disagreed, and in September 2014, Tyler appeared in court where a prosecutor referred to A&E as a fraudulent business.
Months would go by before the case returned to a courtroom.
But even after the raid and after the first court appearance, Tyler maintained her innocence - and her scheme, Judge David Bunning reminded her Thursday in the U.S. Courthouse in Covington.
She would eventually open a short-lived center for homeless people across the street from A&E - a highlight of her character-supporting letters urging Bunning to be lenient.
But of all the good things Tyler did - the bad outweighed them all. A federal prosecutor called Tyler's behavior during the investigation and the legal proceedings "destructive", and Bunning ultimately revoked her bond and ordered her to be incarcerated after she intimidated a witness in Cincinnati. The case was turned over to federal investigators - because EBT involves federal dollars - and she was indicted in December 2015, and spoke exclusively to The River City News in a 20-minute podcast interview where she still maintained her innocence.
Earlier this year, in January, Tyler was convicted on all charges.
A jury didn't buy her evolving claims about why the situation was what it was, and the judge frowned on her attempt to have a semi-homeless man who often accompanied her try to perjure himself on the stand in an effort to take the blame. "That's just horrible," Bunning said Thursday. Tyler's attempt to explain away some of the fraud as her business's purchase of bulk meat from a company she made up was called "a farce" by Bunning.
Had she simply pleaded guilty at the beginning, Tyler could have been sentenced to as little as 37 months - with the benefit of applying time already served (she's been in jail since last December) to that. Bunning said it would set a bad precedent, though, to sentence Tyler as though she had not taken her case to trial, had not intimidated a witness, had not created a fraudulent meat business to mislead the court, and had not tried to pawn off her crime on an innocent man who was shown in court as being unable to even work the EBT machine at her store.
For her crimes, Tyler was sentenced to 66 months in federal prison and will likely serve her time at a facility in Lexington.