On Wednesday, in Little Rock, an Arkansas man was arrested for fleecing a government summer feeding program out of hundreds of thousands of dollars meant to feed hungry children. A U.S. district court stated that Michael R. Lee, 24, bilked the Arkansas Department of Human Services out of $592,041.
Lee’s scam—with help from a relative who works at the Arkansas Department of Human Services and processed applications from sponsors who wanted to be part of the feeding program—transpired over a two-year period. He has been charged with 20 counts of wire fraud.
Lee allegedly pretended to act as a sponsor of a summer feeding program, thus making him eligible for reimbursements based on the number of meals he served.
The indictment against Lee stated he claimed two addresses for his Our Children of Tomorrow program, one in Arkadelphia and one in Little Rock. The indictment charged that Lee claimed to feed between 76 and 350 children at one location, but no children were ever seen there. Lee claimed he fed 115 to 450 children at the other location, but federal authorities assert no more than 25-30 children were ever seen there.
The Arkansas Department of Human Services stated that 13 of the 650 Arkansas providers for the feeding program have lied to the department. Kate Luck, Public Information Officer for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said, “Programs like this that have just come about so quickly, we weren’t equipped. It’s heartbreaking that we even have to have fraud investigators for a program whose sole purpose is to make sure children have enough food.”
When asked how Lee got away with his scam, Luck explained, “Billing for extra milk that you didn’t serve, or billing for a hundred children when you really only had 25… It was a collaboration with an employee of the department, that employee is no longer with the department.”
The current investigation against Lee is being conducted by the Secret Service, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Marshals Service. If Lee is convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each count against him.
Last December, three people in Arkansas were indicted for fraudulent billings in a summer feeding program, reportedly fleecing the program of over $1 million. Jacqueline Mills received $2.5 million in inflated meal reimbursements, but escaped scrutiny because she allegedly bribed state agency worker Gladys King with $42,000 and Tonique Hatton, a supervisor in the state agency, with roughly $190,000. Mills allegedly transferred $950,000 into her personal bank account.