Nonprofit leaders plead guilty
Published 10:21 pm Wednesday, February 3, 2016
The leaders of a nonprofit organization registered in Suffolk have pleaded guilty to federal charges that they inflated the number of children they were feeding through their program.
Stephanie Almond pleaded guilty to mail fraud on Jan. 27. Her daughter, Cindy Hall, pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud on Feb. 3.
According to court documents, Almond incorporated Neighborhood Pride and provided food service through the Virginia Department of Health’s Nutrition School Program, which administers the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program.
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The program is meant to reimburse entities for providing meals to needy children in qualifying districts. Michael Welch, director of the Virginia Department of Health’s program, said Wednesday that a school attendance zone qualifies if 50 percent or more of the students in the school receive free or reduced lunches.
“The site can be located anywhere within that attendance zone,” Welch said. “So a site could be a church, a community center, some people have it at parks. The only requirement is that kids have to eat the meals at the site. They can’t take the meals home.”
Welch said any child who shows up is given a meal.
“You don’t have to ask the kid’s name,” he said.
Children are counted, however, and reimbursement requests are submitted to the Virginia Department of Health based on the count. Those numbers became the basis for the scheme Hall and Almond operated, according to court documents.
The Virginia Department of Health disqualified Almond from participating after the summer of 2011, according to the court documents.
In 2012, Cindy Hall incorporated Send Thee Community Outreach and applied to provide meals at 18 sites.
The following year, she said the organization was providing meals at 31 sites.
However, according to court documents, site administrators were asked to tally in pencil the number of children receiving meals. Hall and others would then alter the tally sheets, initials and signatures, “and greatly exaggerate the number of children being fed at each site,” according to court documents.
In some cases, sites listed as providing meals weren’t actually providing any at all. One ministry in Newport News discussed becoming part of the program with Hall but never actually did, according to court records. Nevertheless, the tallies submitted to the state showed meals being provided at the site.
Welch said it would take a day or two to provide a list of the sites the program was using, but he said they were “mostly in the Suffolk area.”
Hall used the proceeds of the scheme for personal expenses, including purchasing two vehicles, according to the court documents. Both vehicles, as well as real estate and bank accounts, are now subject to seizure by the state, the documents state.
The state lost between $150,000 and $250,000 in the scheme, according to the court documents.
Sentencing for both women is set for May 4.