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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Arkansas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, October 6, 2017

Pine Bluff Man Pleads Guilty to Stealing More Than $1 Million in USDA Funds Intended to Feed Hungry Children

LITTLE ROCK— Patrick C. Harris, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, announced today that Elbert Harris, 57, of Pine Bluff, pleaded guilty to an information charging him with wire fraud. Harris stole more than $1 million intended to feed children in low income areas.

Friday’s plea hearing took place before United States District Judge Kristine G. Baker, who will sentence Harris at a later date.

The United States Department of Agriculture (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. After they are approved, they can provide meals as part of the feeding program, and they are reimbursed for the eligible meals they serve.

At Friday’s hearing, Harris admitted that between 2012 and 2015, he was a sponsor for the feeding program through “Greater Faith Ministries,” which had feeding locations in Pine Bluff, Altheimer, and Wabbaseka. Harris operated 14 feeding sites. He falsely claimed that he served up to 175 children at some of his feeding sites, greatly inflating the number of children who were actually served. Harris submitted approximately 44 claims. Because of the inflated claims, Harris received a total of approximately $1,390,961.05 from DHS.

Harris is the 14th person to plead guilty concerning the theft of USDA feeding program funds for children. In addition to those who have pleaded guilty, two defendants have been convicted at trial. Previous charges filed in this investigation detail fraud involving more than $10 million in USDA feeding program funds.

The statutory penalty for wire fraud is not more than 20 years’ imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine, or both, and not more than three years supervised release.

The investigation is ongoing and is being conducted by the USDA–Office of Inspector General, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Internal Revenue Service–Criminal Investigations. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jana Harris, Allison W. Bragg and Cameron McCree.

If you are aware of any fraudulent activity regarding these feeding programs, please email that information to USAARE.FeedingProgramFraud@usdoj.gov.

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Topic(s): 
Public Corruption
Updated October 6, 2017