LITTLE ROCK— A former state Department of Human Services employee was sentenced Wednesday to nine years in prison for her role in a scheme to steal money intended for feeding children in low-income areas.


Tonique Hatton, 39, of North Little Rock also was ordered to pay $7.6 million in restitution and forefeit $17,681, according to a news release from Chris Thyer, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.


Hatton pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud Sept. 6.


In a separate case, Michael Lee, 26, of Little Rock pleaded guilty Wednesday to an indictment charging him with wire fraud in a smilar scheme. He will be sentenced at a later date.


Lee was a sponsor for a feeding program through Our Children of Tomorrow. He had two approved feeding sites in Arkadelphia and Little Rock. At the sites, he claimed as many as 800 children were fed, but no more than 30 children were ever fed at the Arkadelphia site and no children were fed at the Little Rock site, according to Thyer.


Because of the inflated claims, Our Children of Tomorrow received $666,428 in federal funding, Thyer said.


Hatton is the third defendant sentenced in the scheme to fraudulently obtain federal feeding-program funds. Kattie Jordan was sentenced to five years and three months in prison in March, and Reuben Nims was sentenced to one year and nine months in prison in November.


Gladys Waits, Christopher Nichols, Waymon Weeams, James Franklin, Francine Leon, Maria Nelson, Alexis Young and Erica Warren have all pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud feeding programs and are awaiting sentencing. Jacqueline Mills, Dortha Harper and Anthony Waits are scheduled for trial March 27.


At DHS, Hatton was responsible for approving the feeding programs for co-defendants Mills and Jordan at various times between January 2012 and August 2014. Mills and Jordan made bribe payments to Hatton to ensure those programs were approved, Thyer said.


Some sponsors would claim that hundreds of children were fed at their sites, when few or no children were actually fed there, Thyer said. Hatton also helped Mills and Jordan avoid DHS’s detection of the fraud, he said.


Thyer said the investigation is continuing.