Settlement Allows Angel Food Founder to Keep Job

Two board members of Angel Food Ministries, who sued the ministry and its managing family over alleged financial misconduct, reached an agreement with the defendants on Friday following a court hearing.

The lawsuit, filed last week by Angel Food board members Craig Atnip of Texas and David Prather of Georgia, charged the charity's founder, Joe Wingo, and his family members with misappropriating large amounts of money from the ministry for personal gain.

Angel Food Ministries is a non-denominational charity that offers discounted grocery boxes, feeding around half a million families a month through a network of 5,000 host churches in 39 states.

AFM lost at least $2.7 million from the Wingos' misconduct, according to court papers. The alleged misappropriated funds included credit card expenditures, $600,000 in "housing allowance" for Wingo and his wife, and AFM "tithe" for a church the couple founded and housed in the AFM warehouse.

Attorneys on both sides reached a settlement Friday after a hearing at Walton County Superior Court in Monroe, Ga., where the AFM headquarters is located.

The agreement calls for the Wingos' company credit cards to be canceled, the non-profit to undergo a forensic financial audit, and Joe Wingo to sign over to Angel Food a company he owns that was renting a corporate jet to the nonprofit at $10,000 a month, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

As part of the deal, Atnip and Prather will leave the board but retain standing to take any actions during the forensic audit, the AJC reported.

According to the papers, Joe Wingo and his son, Wesley, will keep their jobs at the organization. Attorneys said his wife, Linda, and son, Andy were, are no longer employed at the organization, reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In a joint statement prior to the settlement, Atnip and Prather said they sought no personal money in the legal case. They said they only wanted "simple justice" for AFM and for the Wingos to return the "misappropriated dollars wrongfully taken from AFM."

AFM issued a statement claiming the lawsuit was a "power grab plain and simple." The suing board directors were accused of acting out of "self interest" and of seeking to install themselves in the founders' place.

According to the suit, Atnip and Prather testified Feb. 19 before a federal grand jury in the U.S. Middle District of Georgia in Macon.

A Grand Jury investigation is underway into "alleged financial irregularities concerning certain individuals," according to a statement from AFM.

The charity has not commented on which "individuals" linked to the group are the subject of the probe. But tax documents filed by Angel Food Ministries to the IRS suggest the people of interest may include Pastor Wingo and his family members.

AFM is also being investigated by the FBI, which searched the headquarters on Feb. 11.

In 2005, Wingo was paid a salary of $69,598. The next year, his compensation dramatically soared to $588,529. Similar spikes in salary amounts were reported for his wife and two sons during the same period.

Watchdogs of Christian charities have pointed out that his salary for 2006 is unusually higher than the salaries of CEOs from non-profits that run on similar annual budgets.

AFM has maintained that the investigation would not affect deliveries of Angel Food grocery boxes to host churches.

The ministry was founded by Joe Wingo and his wife in 1994 to serve families hurt by plant closings in the manufacturing town of Monroe.

The standard food box offered by the charity today costs $30 each but contains twice the value in food.

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