Joint State and Federal Investigation Stops Food Program Fraud

Memphis child care director sentenced for pocketing $375 thousand that should’ve fed children
Friday, July 16, 2021 | 02:27pm

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) Office of Inspector General, the USDA Office of Inspector General, and the US Attorney’s Office in Memphis are sending a strong message that abuse of the state and federal food programs will not be tolerated.

Last year the three government agencies joined together to launch an extensive fraud investigation into Louise’s Learning Tree Day Care Center on Chelsea Ave. in Memphis and its director, pastor Ollie Stephenson Jr.  That joint investigation has led to a plea agreement for Stephenson to serve one year and one day in federal prison and repay more than $375,000 in fraudulently obtained Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) funding.

“This fraud is coming to light thanks to the vigilance and hard work of multiple public entities who recognized something was wrong and began looking into it,” said TDHS Commissioner Clarence H. Carter. “Tennesseans expect their tax dollars to be used to help the people that need them, not individuals seeking to take advantage of the system for their own gain.”

The CACFP provides meals to children and adults who meet age and income requirements.  TDHS administers the program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reimburse sponsoring organizations, including child care centers, for meals.

Stephenson and Louise’s Learning Tree Day Care Center have served as CACFP sponsors since 2016 but the joint investigation discovered deliberate misrepresentations each year of operations.

Among the findings against Stephenson and Louise’s Learning Tree Day Care Center:

·       Fictitious invoices submitted to TDHS for food expenditures that were never made.

·       Purposely inflating the number of children who were served breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks to fraudulently obtain CACFP reimbursement money. For example, Stephenson submitted reports of providing meals for up to 125 children one month despite program monitors observing no more than 10 children at the center.

·       Illegally obtaining $375,000 in CACFP funds through fraud.

“Today’s sentence serves not only as just punishment for this defendant but also as notice to others who seek to prey on feeding assistance programs used to feed vulnerable populations,” said Jason M. Williams, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Office of Inspector General.  “This collaborative effort with our state and federal partners demonstrates that wherever you are, we will find you and hold you accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Last April Stephenson plead guilty in U.S. District Court of the Western District of Tennessee (Memphis) to the charge of submitting false statements.  U.S. District Judge Sheryl H. Lipman additionally ordered a three-year period of supervised release after Stephenson serves his sentence.

Individuals can report fraud of any TDHS program to the Office of Inspector General by calling 1-800-241-2629.

To learn more about the CACFP visit the TDHS website.