Feds allege brother and sister discussed theft in jailhouse phone calls


A brother and sister from Ashdown who are facing federal charges for theft of government benefits allegedly discussed their scheme on phone calls recorded by the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

Robert Allen Merrell, 35, and his sister, Debbie Farmer Day, are facing charges of theft of government benefits in the Texarkana Division of the Western District of Arkansas. The brother and sister allegedly conspired to falsify documents which allowed Merrell to continue to receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration while he was serving term in prison.

Phone conversations between the two which were recorded by the prison are being used as evidence against them both.

An excerpt from a Sept. 5, 2017, call between the siblings is included in Merrell’s indictment.

“During the conversation, Merrell told Day, ‘I said to sign it because you’re power of attorney…,’ Day answered, ‘Yeah, I know…but are you listening to me? If they find out that you’re in jail, you’re gonna have to pay all that back,’ Merrell replied, ‘Well, so be it.'”

Disability benefits are supposed to be suspended if a recipient is incarcerated for 30 or more days. Merrell was in prison from May 2015 to March 2018, according to the indictment.

Day allegedly used some of the money to pay bills for herself and Merrell’s children and deposited some money in Merrell’s account at the prison.

Day pleaded guilty Oct. 6 to an information charging her with theft of government benefits. She has not been sentenced and is currently free on a $5,000 unsecured appearance bond. Merrell appeared for arraignment Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant and entered a plea of not guilty.

Merrell is scheduled for a detention hearing Friday and for a jury trial in December.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wulff. Day is represented by Assistant Public Defender Matthew Hill. Merrell is represented by Texarkana attorney Cory Floyd.

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