North Little Rock Man Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy In Scheme To Steal Feeding Program Funds
LITTLE ROCK—Christopher R. Thyer, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, announced today that Christopher Nichols, 25, of North Little Rock, pled guilty to a Superseding Information charging him with conspiring to commit wire fraud. The charge relates to a conspiracy to fraudulently obtain United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) program funds intended to feed children in low income areas during the school year.
Today’s plea hearing took place in Little Rock before United States District Judge J. Leon Holmes. Judge Holmes will sentence Nichols at a later date.
On February 4, 2015, a Federal Grand Jury indicted Nichols on charges of wire fraud as part of a scheme to fraudulently obtain USDA program funds. The USDA funds the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program, which includes an at-risk after school component. In Arkansas, the feeding programs are administered by the Arkansas Department of Human Services (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.
According to facts read at the plea hearing, Nichols operated as a sponsor for a feeding program through an organization called "A Vision For Success." Nichols’ aunt worked for DHS and DHS records indicate that his aunt submitted and approved the application for the 2014 contract year and approved the application for the 2014 contract year. "A Vision for Success" had two approved sites. The first was Waits Auto Repair in North Little Rock which at the time, was an auto business operated by Nichols’ uncle, Anthony Waits. The second site had a non-existent address. Claims were submitted that falsely represented the average daily attendance and greatly inflated the number of meals provided because no children were ever fed.
Nichols received a total of approximately $333,136.67. Of this money received, Nichols withdrew approximately $325,735.80 in cash, with a majority of that going to Waits. Nichols’s benefit was approximately $25,000–$35,000. Waits was charged in a Second Superseding Indictment filed on November 4, 2015, with conspiracy as part of a scheme to fraudulently obtain USDA program funds along with Waits’ wife, Gladys Waits, Jacqueline Mills, Dorothy Harper, and Tonique Hatton.
Nichols is the second person to plead guilty out of the nine people previously indicted concerning USDA feeding program funds. The nine indictments detail alleged fraud involving over $9 million in USDA feeding program funds. Kattie Jordan previously pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud on August 3, 2015.
The statutory penalty for 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 3 years supervised release.
The investigation is ongoing and is being conducted by the USDA–Office of Inspector General, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service–Criminal Investigations, and United States Marshals Service. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jana Harris and Allison W. Bragg. If you are aware of any fraudulent activity regarding these feeding programs, please email that information to USAARE.FeedingProgramFraud@usdoj.gov.