FBI search, lawsuit made for troubled '09 for ministry

 

In February 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched Angel Food Ministries' headquarters.

Angel Food said a single search warrant was served, and it appeared the investigation involved an individual or individuals tied to Angel Food, not the ministry itself.

The same month, two board members sued the ministry and its founding family. The lawsuit, filed in Walton County Superior Court, said CEO Joe Wingo and his family made more than $2.8 million in 2007. The same year, Angel Food reported revenues of $6.1 million.

The lawsuit alleged that, by the end of 2006, the Wingos -- including Vice President Linda Wingo, Joe's wife, and Chief Operating Officer Andy Wingo, Joe's son -- used Angel Food credit cards to pay for more than $850,000 in personal purchases.

The family, in addition, arranged for Angel Food to "tithe" $600,000 to Emmanuel Praise Church, a church created by Joe and Linda Wingo. The money was then paid to the Wingos as a housing allowance, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also details an arrangement with Joe Wingo's company, North Carolina Aviation Leasing, which leased an airplane to Angel Food for $28,000 a month. The lawsuit says Wingo's company netted $10,000 a month at the expense of the ministry.

In all, the lawsuit estimates Angel Food lost $2.7 million from the family's misconduct.

Angel Food denied all the claims.

The suit was settled in a verbal, court-supervised agreement, but both parties allege the terms weren't met, and they were back in court last summer for a written agreement in front of a judge. The two board members resigned, and Angel Food agreed to cut salaries.

The ministry also paid severance and the legal fees of the board members. Angel Food agreed the family would no longer use corporate credit cards for personal expenses, and the jet leased to Angel Food at a profit was also turned over to the ministry.

Angel Food notified its distribution sites of the lawsuit and investigation with a letter offering assurance that deliveries would continue.

Joe Wingo wrote a newspaper opinion piece defending his salary -- more than $760,000 in 2008. He said it was fair for someone who worked 17-hour days over 15 years, five of which were unpaid.

An Angel Food statement addressed the lawsuit and investigation: "The board of directors and Joseph Wingo as CEO has addressed these problems and will continue to accurately report the financial status of AFM as required by law. These problems do not merit or authorize the suit that has been filed."

A year has passed, and again Angel Food has found itself at the center of a controversy, this time surrounding a piece of legislation that could benefit the ministry.

In February, Rep. Len Walker of Loganville introduced House Bill 1054, which would allow Angel Food and other groups like it to sell groceries online to food stamp recipients.

Angel Food recently hired Walker, a Methodist minister. The nonprofit pays him $50,000 a year to lead a program that sells its food to Georgia schools. The bill is currently postponed.

"The shame is really for people in Georgia on food stamps," said Juda Engelmayer, the director of media and communications and customer care at Angel Food Ministries. "It's not an Angel Food bill. The online aspect was to allow Georgia to become part of a federal test program for food stamps online. That's all."