SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The founding pastor of New Birth Christian Center, a non-denominational church in Chicago, his wife, and three associates have pled guilty to defrauding a summer food program for low-income children. Robbie Wilkerson, 49, and his wife Tasha, 44, both of Oak Park, Ill., entered their guilty pleas today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom Schanzle-Haskins. Robbie Wilkerson pled guilty to wire fraud and money laundering; Tasha Wilkerson pled guilty to theft of government funds.
The business administrator for the 2010 summer food program, Anthony Hall, 54, a NBCC pastor, of Downers Grove, Ill.; Richard Shumate, 51, program operations manager for the 2010 program; and his wife Evelyn Shumate, 48, who worked as an assistant for the program, of Romeoville, Ill., each entered pleas of guilty last week to one count of theft of government funds.
The Summer Food Service Program provides nutritious meals to low-income children during the summer months when schools are not in session. In Illinois, the State Board of Education (ISBE) administers the program funding which is provided by the Food and Nutrition Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The New Birth Christian Center operated the food program in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and was one of the largest recipients of Summer Program funds in Illinois,. For the 2010 program year, Robbie Wilkerson, on behalf of NBCC, submitted a total operational budget to the ISBE of $446,440, including $250,000 for food and $26,400 for administrative costs. The budget represented that NBCC would administer the summer program at 34 sites in the Chicago area.
Instead, Robbie Wilkerson admitted that he submitted or caused to be submitted, approximately $714,000 in false and fraudulent claims to ISBE, more than $250,000 above the budgeted amount. The submitted claims represented that approximately 267,000 meals were served to low-income children, when in fact, fewer than 100,000 meals were actually served, and as much as $450,000 was used for the defendants’ personal use.
Robbie and Tasha Wilkerson admitted that they embezzled more than $100,000 from the program, including more than $60,000 in direct payments to themselves, at the same time Tasha was paid as an employee of Youth Outreach Services, Chicago, as a prevention coordinator. In addition, more than $10,000 was given directly to relatives; $20,000 in cash and other withdrawals from NBCC’s bank account; $46,000 to purchase real estate in Chicago; and, $37,109 to purchase a residence in Memphis Tenn., for Robbie Wilkerson’s parents.
Hall admitted that he embezzled as much as approximately $50,800 in USDA funds for his and his spouse’s use, an amount that exceeded the projected total administrative costs for the summer program by more than $20,000.
Richard and Evelyn Shumate admitted embezzling between $40,0001 and $$95,000 in USDA funds for their personal use, including as much as $28,695 to purchase a 2011 Hyundai Sonata.
Sentencing hearings for Robbie and Tasha Wilkerson are scheduled on Oct. 6, 2017. Hall’s sentencing date has been set for Sept. 22; Richard and Evelyn Shumate are scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 15, 2017.
According to court documents, at sentencing, the government has stated its intent to recommend that Robbie Wilkerson be sentenced to 37 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of at least $400,000. For Tasha Wilkerson, Hall, and Richard and Evelyn Shumate, who each pled guilty to one count of theft of government funds, the government has agreed to recommend a split sentence of five months in prison followed by five months of home confinement and to pay restitution. These recommendations are advisory and are not binding on the court which determines sentencing based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy A. Bass is prosecuting the case on behalf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois. The charges are the result of investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General. The Illinois State Board of Education also assisted in the investigation.