Girl's guardian charged with welfare fraud, theft

ANDERSON — Charges of welfare fraud, theft and perjury were filed against Steve Sells this week.

He’s the 58-year-old grandfather and legal guardian of a 16-year-old teenage girl who was found starved and severely abused at a home in the 3400 block of Forest Terrace early last month.

The latest charges stem from an investigation by the Social Security Administration into how Supplemental Security Income Program, or SSI, benefits collected by Sells were spent.

From January 2008 to December 2014, he allegedly collected more than $55,590 in SSI benefits to care for the girl who suffers from undisclosed physical and developmental disorders. Investigators say the money was deposited in accounts at the Madison County Federal Credit Union, Independent Federal Credit Union and Mainsource Bank.

“Due to the condition in which the beneficiary was found, these benefits were misused by Sells and not used for the care and support of the beneficiary,” according to a probable cause affidavit He was charged by local officials with two counts of Class C felony welfare fraud, two counts of Level 6 theft and one count of Class D felony perjury, according to court documents.

The girl was found by medics on Dec. 1 not breathing and without a pulse, weighing less than 40 pounds and covered with feces. She’s currently recovering at St. Vincent Indianapolis Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital.

Jennifer Sells, the girl’s biological mother, said the girl is awake, alert, and can get out of bed, Fox59 reported Wednesday.

Sells and his wife, Joetta, are currently being held responsible for her condition.

Steve Sells was charged with 12 felony counts ranging from neglect to battery for his alleged role in the girl’s abuse. Authorities say the girl was kept locked in a room at  the home day and night since 2011. She was fed little and the conditions were unsanitary, police records show. Witnesses told police that Sells attacked and battered the girl, according to the probable cause affidavit.

Joetta Sells was charged with 11 felonies. Witnesses told police that the woman allegedly fed the girl feces and urine as punishment and was an accessory to her husband’s abusive behavior.

​Like Stu Hirsch on Facebook and follow him @stuhirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.

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Native of Maryland who moved to Indiana 20 years ago. I've covered every news beat imaginable over a long career as an editor and reporter. I am currently the courts reporter for The Herald Bulletin.