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Former CEO of Atlanta-area Daycare Chain Convicted of Stealing Nearly $2 Million in Federal Child Nutrition Funds

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 9, 2014

ATLANTA - Antonio T. Hurt pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $2 million from a federal program that partially reimburses daycare centers for the cost of meals for needy children.

“This defendant stole nearly $2 million in funds intended to feed underprivileged children,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates.  “This critically important program provides basic sustenance for those most in need.  Instead of paying for school day nutrition, he used the money to expand his daycare business, lease luxury cars, buy jewelry, and pay for other personal expenses.  We will continue to hold accountable those who siphon off public funds for personal use.”

J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated: “The FBI remains well positioned to identify, investigate, and present for prosecution those individuals such as Mr. Hurt who would steal from the much needed and publicly funded federal programs such as the Child & Adult Care Food Program, all for their own personal gain.  Today’s guilty plea ensures that this defendant, who demonstrated extraordinary greed as well as disregard for so many, will be held accountable for his criminal actions.” 

“On behalf of the Georgia children and families who rely on this program, I want to thank U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates and the Northern District of Georgia for bringing Dr. Hurt to justice,” said Bobby Cagle, Commissioner of Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), the state agency responsible for administering the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).  “No amount of waste or fraud or even attempted waste or fraud will be tolerated and we will continue to turn these cases over for criminal prosecution and seek restitution wherever it is appropriate.  This is literally taking food from those who need it most--infants, young children, the elderly, and chronically impaired disabled persons.  Those who would take advantage of this program through fraud or deception have now been warned.”

“USDA-OIG’s investigative branch will continue to work diligently with the US Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners in investigating and prosecuting individuals and organizations who defraud the CACFP and all other USDA funded assistance programs,” said Karen Citizen-Wilcox, Special Agent-in-Charge, USDA-OIG-Investigations. 

According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court: Between 2007 and 2010, Hurt served as the Chief Executive Officer of Bright Star Early Learning Center, which owned and operated multiple daycare centers throughout metropolitan Atlanta, and in other parts of north Georgia under the name, “Bright Star.”  Hurt also entered into franchise agreements that allowed multiple additional third-party daycare centers to operate under the “Bright Star” name. 

In February 2006, Hurt arranged for Bright Star Early Learning Center to apply to participate in the Child & Adult Care Food Program (“CACFP”).  CACFP, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the National School Lunch Act of 1964, is a federal program that partially reimburses daycare centers for the cost of serving breakfast and lunch to eligible children whose family income falls below certain thresholds.  In Georgia, the program is administered by the Georgia Department of Early Care & Learning.  Child and adult care centers that are eligible to participate in the program are required to submit monthly claims to the Department of Early Care & learning which detail the number of eligible students, meals, and other information for each 30-day period.  The Department of Early Care & Learning then reimburses the daycare centers.

Beginning in October 2007 and continuing through January 2010, Hurt submitted millions of dollars in CACFP reimbursement claims to the Department of Early Care & Learning on behalf of his own daycare centers and his franchisees. Hurt’s reimbursement claims intentionally misstated the number of eligible students, meals, and other information.  As a result, the Department of Early Care & Learning issued fraudulently inflated reimbursement funds to an account that Hurt controlled.  Hurt then issued the expected payments to the unsuspecting daycare centers, and retained the fraudulently inflated portion for himself, amounting to approximately $1.9 million over a two-year period.  Hurt used the money to expand and fund the operation of his daycare business, obtaining multimillion dollar acquisition and development loans to build new daycare centers, and in order to live beyond his means. 

Hurt, 38, of Baltimore, Md., was formerly a Georgia high school principal.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 18, 2014, at 2:00 p.m. before United States District Judge Amy Totenberg.

This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Assistant United States Attorney David M. Chaiken is prosecuting the case.

For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016.  The Internet address for the home page for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division is http://www.justice.gov/usao/gan/.

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