‘Angel Food,’ Christian Nonprofit, Pleads Not Guilty To Using Funds For Private Jet, Other Federal Charges

Angel Food Indictment

First Posted: 12/16/11 09:49 AM ET Updated: 12/16/11 09:49 AM ET (Huffington Post)

Joe and Linda Wingo, the founders of the Georgia-based Angel Food Ministries, plead not guilty Thursday to a host of federal charges.

The 49-count federal indictment included charges of fraud, money laundering, and allegations that the pair funneled money from Angel Food to their personal accounts, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Michael J. Moore, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, announced Friday that the charges against the Wingos, along with their son, Andy Wingo, and a former employee, Harry Michaels, according the Christian Post reports.

“As alleged in the indictment, these Defendants raised money in the name of Christian charity, and then used a number of schemes to defraud the organization,” said Moore in a statement.

Angel Food, founded in 1994, was a nonprofit that sold boxes discount groceries to impoverished families across the country through a network of over 5,000 churches. Angel Food shut down in September of 2011, citing the economic downturn and the strain of rising food and gasoline prices for the organization closing its doors, the St. Petersburg Times reports.

The indictment alleges that the pair stole millions of dollars from their charitable ministry, using the money to purchase personal luxury items, including making a down payment on a private jet, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Joe Wingo’s request for a court-appointed attorney was denied by Judge Charles H. Weigle, who posited that Wingo possessed the resources for a privately funded attorney.

“You ought to have resources to hire any lawyer in the state,” Judge Weigle said.

The indictment also accuses the Wingos of using Angel Food funds to boost support for a local candidate, Al Yarborough, in the Walton County Sheriff appointment in 2008 by giving bonuses to employees on the condition that they use a portion of their bonus to donate to Yarborough’s campaign, the Christian Post reports.

At its peak, Angel Food Ministries sold food to nearly 500,000 families a month and employed 90 full-time staff members.

In 2008, the nonprofit was recognized by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives as an example of “effective models for Federal collaboration with faith-based and community organizations.”

Joe and Linda Wingo of Angel Food Ministries face fraud charges

By KATE BRUMBACK, Associated Press – Dec 2, 2011

ATLANTA (AP) — 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.

Pastors Linda and Joe Wingo, the organization’s founders, were scheduled to make their first court appearance Friday afternoon, the prosecutor’s office said. It was not clear when their son, Andrew Wingo, or the employee named in the indictment, Harry Michaels, would appear. It also was not immediately 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, an 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 email from The Associated Press seeking comment Friday.

The indictment filed in the U.S. District Court in Athens states the defendants used funds from the ministry to purchase classic cars, jewelry and other items. The U.S. attorney’s office in Macon said it would issue a statement at some point Friday.

The ministry shut its doors in September after 17 years of operation, citing rising food and fuel prices, declining sales and operational costs.

The nonprofit organization was primarily a food assistance program, purchasing food in bulk at discount prices and then repackaging it and selling it at reduced prices. While the stated purpose was to sell food to needy families, prosecutors say the ministry sold food to anyone.

Families typically ordered multi-meal boxes of meatballs, ham and other staples from monthly menus, spending roughly $30 for an estimated $65 worth of groceries, Angel Food has said in the past. Families then collected boxes at churches that were rewarded with at least $1 for every box delivered.

Angel Food was started in 1994 by the Wingos with 34 families in Monroe, about 40 miles east of Atlanta. 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 bank accounts for their own personal 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 and used them to funnel Angel Food Ministries funds for their personal use and took actions “to cover up their illegal activities when they learned they were under investigation.”

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 that was then leased back to the ministry; 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.

Angel Food Founders Enter Plea

Three months after shutting down operations, the founders of Angel Food Ministries have pleaded not guilty to fraud and money laundering charges.

Joe and Linda Wingo entered the plea in a Georgia courtroom Thursday.

The couple is accused of using the charity’s funds for personal use.

Angel Food Ministries was based out of Monroe, Georgia.

It provided discounted groceries to needy families across the country, including many right here in the Valley.

 

See the pictures: Here

Angel Food closure hits affiliated business, church

By Shelia M. Poole

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The closure of Angel Food Ministries last month continues to send
ripples through Walton County.

A  transportation company owned by Angel Food Ministries and a
church started by Angel Food’s founders have either shut down or sharply
curtailed operations.

Steve Savage, a spokesman for the nonprofit, said Good Hope
Transportation “is no longer in business.” The trucking subsidiary of
Angel Food Ministries identifies Wesley Joseph Wingo as its CEO and his
wife, Linda H. Wingo, as its CFO. One of the couple’s sons, Jonathan
Wesley Wingo, is listed as the secretary, according to filings in the
Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.

The company specialized in transporting food and agricultural
products. It’s unclear how many people it employed.

In addition, Savage said, Emmanuel Praise Church in Monroe, which was
formed by the Wingos, “has closed for services.” But he said Bible study
classes are still being held.

Angel Food Ministries announced in September that it was ceasing
operations after 17  years. It also said it had laid off its entire
full-time staff of 90 people and put its headquarters up for sale.

The nonprofit blamed the shutdown on the state of the economy,
including increasing costs for food, fuel and operations. But the
organization had other problems, including facing an ongoing federal
investigation, a past lawsuit filed by members of its own board and
heightened scrutiny about the pay given to members of the family that
founded it.

According to the nonprofit’s most recent 990 filing with the Internal
Revenue Service, Angel Food paid a total of $1.06 million in 2009 to
three members of the Wingo family. Wesley Joseph Wingo received
$697,037. Jonathan Wesley Wingo, as director of pastoral ministries and
chief information officer, received $265,195. And Linda Wingo, listed as
a director and corporate secretary, was paid $100,480.

In a previous statement, the nonprofit said a group of former
employees and food vendors “are working to find a better way of serving
those who have come to depend on Angel Food.

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