Three Individuals Indicted in Federal Feeding Program Conspiracy
LITTLE ROCK—A former and one current Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) employee and one feeding program sponsor have been indicted for their roles in a conspiracy to steal federal money. Christopher R. Thyer, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, announced unsealing of an indictment and the arrest Thursday morning of Gladys Elise King, age 34, of England; Tonique D. Hatton, age 37 of North Little Rock; and Jacqueline D. Mills, age 39 of Helena on a 76-count Indictment.
The Indictment, returned by a Federal Grand Jury on December 11, 2014, charges Hatton, King, and Mills with conspiracy to fraudulently obtain United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) program funds. Additionally, Mills is charged with wire fraud, paying bribes, and engaging in money laundering. King and Hatton are also charged with accepting bribes.
According to the indictment, the USDA funds the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program, which includes an at-risk afterschool component. USDA also funds the Summer Food Service Program. In Arkansas, the feeding programs are administered by 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 Tonique Hatton and Gladys King worked for DHS, and part of their job was to determine eligibility of sponsors to participate in the feeding programs. Mills operated as a sponsor for feeding program. Hatton and King were responsible for approving Mills’ programs at various times.
The indictment alleges that Mills made bribe payments to DHS employees Hatton and King. In exchange for those bribes, Mills would submit inflated numbers of meals purportedly served from her sites. Hatton and King would provide protection from DHS scrutiny.
“As alleged in the Indictment, these three individuals and others were literally stealing money that was supposed to be used to feed poor and hungry children,” stated Thyer. “While I am pleased that we were able to uncover and prosecute this behavior, I am at the same time sickened that it could happen at all.”
“The Secret Service is committed to aggressively investigating those associated with this type of financially motivated crime,” stated Special Agent in Charge Brian Marr. “To steal from the mouths of hungry children in this state is unacceptable.”
“This crime directly targeted funds designated to feed disadvantaged children in Arkansas,” stated David T. Resch, Special Agent in Charge of the Little Rock FBI. “The partnership of the IRS, USDA, USSS and the FBI are committed to investigating and prosecuting these crimes to the fullest extent of the law.”
Special Agent in Charge Mary L. Lewis, Southwest Region of the United States Department of Agriculture – Office of the Inspector General stated, “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.”
“These programs are designed to ensure financially disadvantaged children are provided with good nutritious meals throughout the year, they are not designed to enrich the program administrators,” stated Christopher A. Henry, Special Agent in Charge of the IRS- Criminal Investigation Nashville Field Office. “Individuals who engage in this type of fraud to line their own pockets with public funds should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable.”
The statutory penalty for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit 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 statutory penalty for receipt of bribes, paying bribes, and money laundering is not more than 10 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. Assisting with the arrests this morning were deputies from the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office and officers and detectives from the North Little Rock Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jana K. Harris and Allison W. Bragg.
An indictment contains only allegations. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.