LITTLE ROCK - A Marianna man on Friday became the 10th person in Arkansas to plead guilty to conspiring to steal money from a federally funded program to provide meals to children in low-income areas.
James E. Franklin Jr., 34, pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Little Rock to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and will be sentenced at a later date, according to a news release from Chris Thyer, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
Franklin could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and fined up to $250,000.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture funds the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program, which is administered in Arkansas by the state Department of Human Services. Franklin admitted Friday that in the summer of 2013, he and Anthony Waits went to a bank to meet Dorothy Harper of England, sponsor of a local feeding program funded through the national program, and that Harper gave Waits about $12,000 in cash.
Franklin admitted that Waits explained to him the cash was part of a scheme to defraud the federal feeding program and that he agreed to participate with Waits in the scheme. Franklin became the sponsor of a feeding program through an organization called JL&N Outreach, and in 2013 and 2014 he submitted about 12 claims for reimbursement that inflated the numbers of children fed at sites in Brinkley and Hughes, according to Thyer.
According to witnesses, no more than 10 children per day were fed at the Brinkley site and no more than 15 per day were fed at the Hughes site, but Franklin claimed that 217 to 287 children were fed per day in Brinkley and 184 to 244 per day were fed in Hughes.
Because of the inflated claims, Franklin received $380,055 from DHS. He withdrew about $252,000 in cash and paid Anthony Waits about 40 percent of the total amount of money he received, according to Thyer.
Harper and Waits have been indicted on similar charges. Gladys Waits, a former DHS employee and Anthony Waits’ estranged wife, pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and receipt of a bribe.
Federal prosecutors have alleged that more than $10 million has been stolen from the program by multiple people in Arkansas. The investigation is continuing.