For two years, Bernard Walker used fraudulently obtained checks to buy cars -- a Jaguar, a Cadillac, an Audi, a BMW -- then pocketed the extra cash he got back.
He covered his trail in different ways, including writing himself a check out of a church's bank account, but he couldn't escape scrutiny indefinitely.
On Thursday, Walker was sentenced to 33 months in prison, plus three years of supervised release, for embezzling money intended to pay for the meals and snacks of low-income children attending day care centers in 11 Georgia counties. He had been indicted on the federal charges Oct. 14.
Walker had access to the money as the nutrition specialist for the Central Savannah River Area Economic Opportunity Authority, which has headquarters on Greene Street. He worked at the organization for more than 10 years.
"We had no reason to suspect (he was embezzling money)," said Gloria Lewis, the executive director. "He built up a trust as he did his work."
Walker pleaded guilty through a plea bargain three months after his indictment.
"Stealing taxpayers' money that was allocated to buying meals for our children is reprehensible," U.S. Attorney Edward J. Tarver said.
The indictment shows Walker obtained the authority's checks by submitting false invoices from nonexistent vendors. He then used those checks to purchase six vehicles at Top Quality Auto in Waynesboro, Ga., including luxury cars, a Ford Mustang and a Ford Expedition.
In those instances, he gave the dealership checks in excess of the purchasing price and pocketed a check in return. The largest amount he received back was $10,196.44, the indictment showed.
He also bought a $475 rug at Goldberg's Furniture with a $4,634 check and got $4,158 back. In a separate incident, Walker deposited a $4,634 authority check into the bank account of Thankful Baptist Church in Waynesboro, then wrote a check to himself from the church's bank account for $4,632, the indictment stated.
Lewis said new safeguards have been put into place to prevent future theft, but she declined to give specifics. She added that there are policies in place that allow employees to report suspicious behavior without the fear of retaliation.
"We put a lot of trust in (Walker) as an employee, and he just didn't follow through," Lewis said.