Worker spent money meant for children

The former nutrition specialist for a not-for-profit organization doling out millions of federal dollars for children's food programs in Augusta and surrounding counties pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges that he stole about $200,000 to buy cars and furniture.

Bernard Walker, 44, admitted to taking checks worth tens of thousands of dollars -- money that was supposed to buy meals for low-income children in Head Start programs -- while working for the CSRA Economic Opportunity Authority.

As part of his plea deal, Walker pleaded guilty to two counts of a 14-count indictment that included allegations he purchased several cars, including a BMW 528i and Jaguar S-Type, from Top Quality Auto in Waynesboro from April 2008 to March 2009. The charges are money-laundering and theft or embezzlement from a program receiving federal funding.

"He would purchase the cars and whatever was left over from the check balance he would receive in cash," said FBI Special Agent Jason Gustin, who testified in the hearing.

This was also done with several items of furniture he purchased from Goldberg's Furniture in Waynesboro, Ga., Gustin said. "Again, just like with the cars, the value of the checks always exceeded the value of the furniture." Walker was also accused of laundering the money through his church in Waynesboro, where he, along with two others, were responsible for the church's bank account.

When asked by U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. if he thought they were looking at charging others in the case, Gustin replied that it's possible.

"We are still deciding how far to go on that," he said.

Walker's charges carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.

He also was ordered to turn over the Jaguar and BMW to federal authorities. He will be sentenced later.