LITTLE ROCK — A Bryant woman pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with thefts from a feeding program intended to serve children in low-income areas.

LITTLE ROCK — A Bryant woman pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with thefts from a feeding program intended to serve children in low-income areas.


Francine Leon, 42, entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Little Rock and will be sentenced at a later date, Chris Thyer, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, said in a news release.


Prosecutors say Leon served as sponsor for a federally funded feeding program through an organization called Brighter Kids, Brighter Futures. In that capacity, she approved feeding sites in Cotton Plant, Wheatley, Poplar Grove, Morrilton, Brinkley and West Helena.


As part of her plea, Leon admitted that she was recruited by two former Arkansas Department of Human Services employees to participate in a scheme to defraud the government by overstating the number of children being fed.


One of the DHS employees was Tonique Hatton, who has been indicted on similar charges.


Leon admitted that she received a little more than $1 million, from which she paid more than $100,000 to Hatton and more than $60,000 to the other DHS employee.


Thyer said Leon is the third person to plead guilty to charges resulting from an investigation into feeding programs in Arkansas funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kattie Jordan and Christopher Nichols previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud Aug. 3, 2015, and Jan. 15, 2016, respectively.


The offense is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.