ATLANTA — Leaders of a Georgia-based ministry that provided discounted groceries to needy families across the U.S. have been indicted and face a wide range of charges, including using organization funds to buy jewelry, athletic equipment, clothes and to make a down payment on a jet.
A 49-count federal indictment filed Tuesday against the two founders of Angel Food Ministries, their son and another employee includes charges of fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Magistrate Charles Weigle, of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, set bond for Pastors Linda and Joe Wingo, the founders, at $20,000 each on Friday, according to The Telegraph of Macon. An arraignment in the case is scheduled for Dec. 15 in Macon.
It was not clear when their son, Andrew Wingo, or the employee named in the indictment, Harry Michaels, would appear. It also was not clear whether any of the four was in custody.
“The Wingos feel, when all is said and
done, that they will be vindicated,” Edward Tolley, attorney for Linda Wingo, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That’s how they feel. They ran this ministry for a number of years and they fed a lot of people. They’re very disappointed to be included in this indictment.”
Tolley did not immediately return a call and an e-mail from The Associated Press seeking comment Friday.
The indictment filed in the U.S. District Court in Athens states the defendants used money from the ministry to purchase vintage cars, jewelry and other items.
The ministry, which had also operated out of churches in the Augusta area, shut its doors in September after 17 years, citing rising food and fuel prices, declining sales and operational costs.
Angel Food was started in 1994 by the Wingos with 34 families in Monroe. It grew through a network of churches to feed more than 500,000 families a month in 45 states. The organization ran into its most serious trouble in 2009 when the FBI searched its offices.
The indictment alleges that beginning in January 2003, the defendants used the organization’s accounts for their own benefit without the approval of the board of directors. Tax records have shown the Wingos were receiving six-figure salaries at some points.
The indictment says Joe and Linda Wingo established other nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies to funnel Angel Food Ministries funds for their own use.
Among the various forms of fraud alleged in the indictment are: issuing checks to themselves and family members and employees purportedly as bonuses not approved by the board; using organization funds to make down payments on real estate and retaining rental and sale proceeds from those properties; routinely using organization credit cards for personal expenses; using ministry funds to make a down payment on a jet; soliciting kickbacks from vendors; diverting proceeds from the sale of excess inventory for personal use; and giving employees bonuses and instructing them to make personal contributions to political candidates in the amount of the bonuses.
In one example, prosecutors say Andy Wingo and Harry Michaels would solicit kickbacks by instructing vendors to increase the amount of their invoices to Angel Food Ministries to cover the kickbacks. They would then instruct the organization to pay the inflated invoices, “knowing that the kickbacks had already been paid or would be paid in the near future,” prosecutors say.
Linda Wingo tried to persuade employees not to reveal information to the FBI and instructed an employee to remove and destroy the hard drive of a computer, prosecutors say.