Caddo commissioner and sister plead guilty to defrauding child feeding program
A Caddo parish commissioner and his sister pleaded guilty on Friday to federal wire fraud charges in U.S. District Court before Federal Judge Elizabeth E. Foote, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice .
Caddo Ward Commissioner Lynn D. Cawthorne, 54, and Belena C. Turner, 50, both of Shreveport, pleaded guilty to wire fraud. They have been charged with a scheme to defraud the United States Department of Agriculture’s summer feeding program for children.
A grand jury separately indicted Cawthorne in December 2019 for filing a false tax return. He also pleaded guilty to this charge.
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According to the press release, the USDA Infant Nutrition Programs offer a summer food service program. The purpose is to feed the children during school vacations, and it is administered by the Louisiana Department of Education. Sponsors prepare and serve meals, under the direction of USDA and LDOE.
Sponsors must provide documentation for feeding sites in addition to information on budget and number of meals served to eligible beneficiaries. They are reimbursed after filing the required documents with LDOE, or they can obtain funds in advance for specific needs.
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In 2013, Cawthorne was President of United Citizens and Neighborhoods Inc. (UCAN). Turner was the executive director.
That year, they asked UCAN to sponsor several sites as part of the Summer Food Service program.
According to the statement, Cawthorne started Harvest Catering Inc. on behalf of an unindicted co-conspirator in May of that year. However, he retained control over decision making and finances, including access to checks and the debit card.
The siblings reportedly provided LDOE information indicating that the catering company would create meals for UCAN. A misrepresentation resulted in a transfer of $ 33,080.78 from LDOE to UCAN on May 20, 2013.
On May 24, 2013, Turner wrote a check to Dreamkeepers Academy, a non-profit organization she ran.
Cawthorne on May 30, 2013 wrote a check for $ 8,000 from UCAN to Harvest Catering.
The siblings then used some of the funds for non-summer purposes, withdrawing them by check, cash withdrawal or debit card.
The government and the siblings have agreed that the amount lost will be determined at the time of sentencing. This hearing is set for 9:30 am. March 16.
As for the separate tax evasion charge, Cawthorne allegedly hired a tax preparer and helped file his documents. He received unreported income from Harvest Catering and reported adjusted gross income of $ 7,555 in calendar year 2013, which he knew to be incorrect. The tax return was filed around April 15, 2014, although Cawthorne knew his income was higher than reported.
According to the press release, “Cawthorne and Turner each face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release and a fine of up to $ 250,000, on the count of wire fraud. In addition, , Cawthorne faces up to 3 years in prison, a fine of $ 100,000, or both, for tax evasion. “
This article originally appeared on Shreveport Times: Caddo Parish Commissioner Lynn D. Cawthorne, his sister pleads guilty