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Jacksonville Councilman Accused of Defrauding FEMA After Fran

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WILMINGTON, N.C. — A former payroll clerk with Onslow Utilities Inc. says she padded time sheets for work done at North Topsail beach after Hurricane Fran.

Teresa Troche, who handled payroll work for the company then owned by Jacksonville City Councilman Ron Ellen, testified Friday in U.S. District Court during the second day of Ellen's trial on federal fraud charges.

Ellen, 52, is charged with five counts of submitting fraudulent claims and five counts of making false statements to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1996.

The charges against Ellen stem from repair work done at North Topsail Beach after Hurricane Fran destroyed water lines in the town in September 1996. Onslow Utilities won the contract to repair the lines with the low bid of $250 per hour per six-man crew.

"(Supervisors) would tell me how many crews worked the day before, and I would add names of other employees to make up crews,'' Troche said. ``I would use people that were working on another job."

On Oct. 15, 1996, the time sheets showed 12 employees plus a supervisor were working at the beach. The rewritten time sheets shows 18 employees, according to evidence presented by federal prosecutors.

Troche said she left Onslow Utilities in 1997 and took a job with another construction company where she met Jim Belfiore, a retired Onslow County estimator. She said she told Belfiore about her work for Onslow Utilities Inc., and Belfiore reported their conversation to FEMA.

Federal prosecutors also presented several former workers from Onslow Utilities Inc. who testified that their time sheets during the 1996 project had been padded.