North Little Rock Man Indicted on 10 Counts of Wire Fraud in Scheme to Steal Feeding Program Funds
LITTLE ROCK—Another feeding program sponsor has been indicted for his role in a scheme to steal federal money. Christopher R. Thyer, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, announced that Christopher Nichols, age 24, of North Little Rock, has surrendered to authorities after the filing of a 10-count indictment.
The indictment, returned by a Federal Grand Jury on February 4, 2015, charges Nichols with wire fraud as part of a scheme to fraudulently obtain United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) program funds.
According to the indictment, the USDA funds the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program, which includes an at-risk afterschool component. In Arkansas, the feeding programs are administered by the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS). Sponsors who want to participate in the feeding programs must submit an application to DHS for approval. Once approved, they can provide meals as part of the feeding program and be reimbursed based on the number of eligible meals they serve.
The indictment states that Nichols operated as a sponsor for a feeding program through an organization called A Vision For Success. It alleges that a relative of Nichols worked for DHS and processed applications from sponsors applying to participate in the feeding programs.
The indictment alleges that Nichols applied with DHS to participate as a sponsor and that his relative at DHS approved his applications. The only employees Nichols listed on his applications were additional family members. The indictment states that he falsely represented his average daily attendance and greatly inflated the number of meals provided; few or no children were actually fed.
“With reportedly over 200,000 children at risk of hunger in Arkansas because they are not getting nutritious food needed to thrive, this indictment is a small step toward ensuring the funding for nutritious feeding programs in Arkansas is actually feeding children,” stated Thyer. “This is the second indictment and fourth person charged in connection to feeding programs in Arkansas. In December, 2014, my office indicted three individuals for their roles in a conspiracy to steal federal money through feeding programs administered by the Department of Agriculture. I expect that as the investigation into Arkansas’ feeding programs continues, there will be additional indictments. We will not tolerate the blatant disregard of the welfare of Arkansas’ children by those who steal the very money meant to alleviate the burgeoning need to put nutritious food in the mouths of hungry children. If you are aware of any fraudulent activity regarding these feeding programs, please e-mail that information to my office at USAARE.FeedingProgramFraud@usdoj.gov.”
“It is again another example of the collaborative efforts of local, state and federal agencies to aggressively investigate and prosecute these individuals whose depravity has no bounds,” stated Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Brian Marr. “This manipulator of the system who took food from children, and expensed it off to the people of the state of Arkansas, deserves every bit of punishment allowable by law.”
United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Dax Roberson, Southwest Region said, “I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s office, OIG special agents, and our investigative partners for their hard work on this investigation. When the integrity of nutrition programs for needy children is violated by criminal conduct, the Office of Inspector General will pursue justice to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Stealing money from a fund that was reputedly feeding underprivileged and disadvantaged children is deplorable,” stated Assistant Special Agent in Charge James Hendricks with the Little Rock FBI, “We appreciate the tireless efforts of our partners, Internal Revenue Service, United States Department of Agriculture, United States Secret Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their diligent resolve to investigate this appalling crime.”
“IRS Criminal Investigation is proud to work with our law enforcement partners to identify, investigate and prosecute financial fraud schemes, especially when the victims of the fraud are disadvantaged children that programs such as this are meant to benefit,” stated Christopher A. Henry, Special Agent in Charge of the IRS- Criminal Investigation Nashville Field Office.
The statutory penalty for wire fraud is not more than 20 years’ imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine, or both, and not more than three years’ supervised release.
The investigation is ongoing and is conducted by the United States Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations, United States Department of Agriculture—Office of the Inspector General, and United States Marshals Service. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jana Harris and Allison W. Bragg.
An indictment contains only allegations. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.