By Victor Ochieng
It was a sad day when pastor of the Chicago-based New Birth Christian Center was sentenced to 37 months behind bars for defrauding a food program targeting low-income children.
Pastor Robbie Wilkerson was in charge of the summer food program that operated when schools weren’t in session. Court documents showed that the pastor and First Lady Tasha Wilkerson pleaded guilty to the fraud charges in May this year. Wilkerson admitted to have submitted close to $714,000 in fraudulent claims to the Illinois State Board of Education, a figure more than $250,000 above program’s budget, said the prosecution team.
Reports provided by Wilkerson indicated that they provided about 267,000 meals to the low income beneficiaries of the program, while in truth, only less than 100,000 meals were served. Having been found guilty of the charges, Wilkerson was ordered by the court to pay a restitution of $440,964 and his wife Tasha was to pay $40,001. She received a sentence of 12 months and one day behind bars.
The pastor and his wife had appeared before U.S. District Judge Sue E. Myerscough on Friday, where they received the orders.
It isn’t just the two who’ve been sentenced in relation to the fraud. Also found guilty and sentenced are so of the program’s business administrators. Anthony Hall, 55, a NBCC pastor, was slapped with five years of federal probation and home confinement running for 10 months. Richard Shumate, 52, who served as the operations manager of the program was also sentenced to five months in custody by the federal Bureau of Prisons and a succeeding five months of home confinement. His wife Evelyn Shumate, 49, who worked as the program’s assistant, also received the same sentence as her husband. Jointly and severally with Wilkerson, the couple was also ordered to pay a restitution of $49,964.
Tasha Wilkerson, Hall, Richard, and Evelyn Shumate each individually pleaded guilty this past May to one count of defrauding the federal government.
Even though the funding for the Summer Food Service Program was funded by the Illinois State Board of Education, the food was provided by the Food and Nutrition Service, an agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The New Birth Christian Center ran the children food program between 2008 and 2010 and it ranked among the entities that received the largest share of the Summer Food program funds provided by the State of Illinois.