Robbie Wilkerson, the founding pastor of New Birth Christian Center church in Chicago, Illinois, has been sentenced to 37 months in prison for defrauding a food program for low-income children. His wife, Tasha Wilkerson, has been sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison.
Pastor Wilkerson has also been ordered to pay $440,964 in restitution, and his wife $40,001, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
The church operated a summer food program to provide meals to low-income students when schools were not in session, and it claimed it provided about 267,000 meals to low-income children in 2010, when it actually served fewer than 100,000 meals.
Wilkerson admitted in court that he submitted about $714,000 in false or fraudulent claims to the Illinois State Board of Education, more than $250,000 above the budgeted cost of the program, prosecutors were quoted as saying.
In May, Pastor Wilkerson plead guilty to wire fraud and money laundering while his wife pled guilty to theft of government funds.
Three other church officials also pleaded guilty in May to one count each of theft of government funds, according to NBC Chicago.
Anthony Hall, 50, of Downers Grove, another pastor and administrator of the food program in 2010, was sentenced to five years of federal probation, including 10 months of home confinement, and ordered to pay $40,001 in restitution, according to NBC.
An operations manager for the 2010 program, 52-year-old Richard Shumate and his 49-year-old wife, Evelyn Shumate, were sentenced to five months each in prison, followed by five months of home confinement, the justice department said. The couple, who live in Romeoville, were also ordered to pay $49,964 in restitution.
Wilkerson, his wife and associates were indicted in 2015 for embezzling approximately $450,000 they received to operate the 2010 Summer Food Service Program. The embezzled amount was more than one-half of the funding for the program.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Summer Food Service Program provides nutritious meals to low-income children during the summer months when schools are not in session. In Illinois, the State Board of Education administers the program funding provided by the Food and Nutrition Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In 2008, 2009 and 2010, the New Birth Christian Center's food program was one of the largest recipients of Summer Program funds in the state of Illinois.
Some $10,000 was given directly to relatives while $20,000 in cash and other withdrawals were made from the church's bank account. They also used $46,000 to purchase real estate in Chicago and $37,109 to buy a house in Memphis, Tennessee, for the pastor's parents.
Earlier when The Christian Post made phone calls to New Birth Christian Center church, they went unanswered.