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VOL. 41 | NO. 8 | Friday, February 24, 2017

Probes raise questions about misuse of food program money

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Two investigations released by the state comptroller's office Thursday are raising questions about what happened to hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money that was supposed to be used to feed poor children.

One probe questioned large cash withdrawals and spending by All About Giving, a nonprofit with locations in Nashville and Knoxville that helped day care programs feed at-risk kids. The comptroller's office said taxpayer money meant for the children was spent on questionable things like hotels, online gaming, shoes and an Xbox.

The state Department of Human Services oversees the food program that passes federal dollars to organizations to feed mostly needy children. The comptroller's office has been critical of the Department for lax oversight into the $80 million program.

A spokeswoman for the agency said DHS has been updating its systems to catch possible misuse of funds.

"DHS actually reported All About Giving to the comptroller's office after we started investigating them and enlisted the comptroller's office to continue the investigation for us," said Stephanie Jarnigan, spokeswoman for DHS.

The comptroller investigation found that DHS did not check to see if 23 day care sites sponsored by All About Giving were even legitimate. Investigators, the report said, found that 15 of the feeding sites included apartment buildings, and eight addresses were discovered to have no dwelling whatsoever on them. The investigation also revealed that several of the listed day care homes appeared to be owned that the CEO's family members.

All About Giving CEO LaShane Hayes pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and wire fraud charges last month in connection with her organization, which received more than $2 million from the food program.

Hayes' attorney did not return a call seeking comment.

The second investigation involved Memphis-based Heal Thyself Deliverance Temple, which operated a summer food-service program for needy kids in 2015. The comptroller's office said the organization was paid an extra $13,000 after filing claims for more meals that it actually served. The investigation also found that meal count sheets were falsified and staff withdrew $13,000 in cash from the organization's bank account without documenting how it was spent on the food program.

The results of the investigation into HTDT have been turned over to prosecutors in Memphis, the comptroller's office said in a release.

Jarnigan said both All About Children and HTDT are no longer in the food program. A woman who answered a number listed for HTDT said it was the wrong number.