Woman sentenced in food fraud case

U.S. judge sentences her to 3 years of probation, orders her to pay $178,287

A central Arkansas woman was sentenced Tuesday to three years of probation and ordered to pay $178,287.52 in restitution for failing to report that two people were committing fraud through her federally funded programs to feed poor children.

U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes sentenced Debora Washington, who on July 8 pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony -- the deliberate concealment of a felony -- to a sentence within the range suggested by federal sentencing guidelines.

Washington was earlier charged with conspiring to defraud the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers child nutrition programs through the Arkansas Department of Human Services. The child nutrition programs include the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which has an at-risk, after-school component through which children in low-income areas are served meals and/or snacks, and the Summer Food Service Program, which ensures that children in low-income areas receive nutritious meals when school isn't in session.

Washington was a sponsor, and as such was required to keep records on the number of eligible meals served at approved sites she operated in 2013 and 2014 in North Little Rock, Hughes, Wynne, Marianna, Forrest City, Little Rock and Brinkley.

Washington became a sponsor in January 2013, and was later approached by Anthony Waits of North Little Rock about helping her with her food program, which she called "Love Letters A Universal Sound," according to court documents. Waits was married to Gladys Waits, who was a state Department of Human Services employee who later admitted falsely approving people as sponsors, knowing they planned to help her and her husband commit fraud.

After the Waitses got involved in Washington's programs, her reported average daily attendance increased dramatically, from 21-41 children at one location to 361-398 children at the same site. A court document states that in a five-month period in 2014, Washington received about $225,000 that was directly deposited into her bank account stemming from false claims she submitted. It says she paid Anthony Waits 40% to 50% of that money through cash and checks.

The Waitses are among about 20 people who have been convicted in the scheme and are serving prison time. The amount of restitution that Washington was ordered to pay is the amount of money she admitted stealing through the program.

Metro on 09/18/2019

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