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Smith-Scott received almost $1 million; ignores repayment demands

By Walter Geiger Officials at Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) trusted April Smith with monies from its oft-abused Summer Food Service Program to the point they sent her nearly $1 million in public funds from 2007 to last year when it all began to unravel. Cases of operators like Smith abusing the program were rampant until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which provides billions for meals nationwide, mandated oversight. It was that oversight program that ended Smith’s days as an operator. During the fiscal year period 2007-2016, Smith received $963,924.57 in USDA funds to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for ‘˜needy’ children at 30 sites. No participant is required to prove ‘˜need’. If they show up, they eat on the taxpayer dime with no questions asked. During that period, Smith purported to serve 368,000 meals through her organization A.D. Smith Community Services, Inc. (ADSCS). Those meals, former staffers say, consisted of a hamburger, hot dog or PBJ along with chips and milk. Those meals cost taxpayers an average of $2.62 each and the program does not allow chips. According to a review of DECAL’s 175page case file on Smith, obtained by The Herald Gazette after an open records request, the wheels started coming off Smith’s gravy train when employees began complaining last year that they had not been paid and an investigation was begun. It was determined Smith spent $142,748.83 on things other than feeding children. She was ordered to pay back the money and agreed to begin making monthly payments of $6,559 in January. She has not complied. Time is running out for Smith to make good on her pledge. ’USDA policy requires us to give them three chances to repay. We are in the second request that ends soon. She will be given one more chance which will extend into June. However, we have already informed the state attorney general’s office we would like to pursue criminal charges in this case,’ DECAL’s Reg Griffin reported last week. Smith, now April Smith Scott after an elaborate wedding in April, 2016 at Summers Field Park, has filed for bankruptcy. Investigators allege USDA money was used to pay some of the expenses for that wedding. Among the debts listed on Smith-Scott’s bankruptcy filing are over $44,000 owed to Thomaston Milk Co. and Ingles for milk. Bankruptcy may forestall her debts but it will not forestall criminal prosecution, according to Griffin. She could go to prison if convicted. In 2016, ADSCS claimed to serve meals at E.P. Roberts Center and Myles-Wimberly Park which are right across the street from each other. Other locations were Upson County Youth Center, Clark’s Learning Center, Crawford Co. High School, Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, UGA Griffin, Hope 4 Tomorrow, Griffin High School, Butts County Leisure Services, Mt. Olive Outreach Ministries, Upson-Lee football camp, Fairmount Park, Milner City Park, South Atlanta Youth Association and the following churches: Parker’s Chapel AME, St. Phillip’s AME, Friendship Baptist, Olive Grove Baptist, West Mt. Sinai, Redeeming the Times House of Prayer, Bethlehem Baptist, New Mercy Baptist, Shield of Faith, Antioch Baptist, Towaliga County Line, Sardis Missionary Baptist, Rock Springs Christian, Greater Allen Chapel, Mount Pleasant Baptist and New Beginnings Community Baptist, among other sites. As the investigation proceeded, DECAL’s accountants suggested corrective actions. They were not implemented, according to the investigative file. Proper financial records were also not kept. At multiple locations, meals were served without the required fruit/vegetable component and required racial/ethnic data was not compiled. The probe indicated the number of meals reported served at many sites exceeded the allowable number for that site. Delivery driver mileage logs were not maintained and there were irregularities with employee time sheets. Often, the investigation found, required site monitors were not in place. ADSCS claimed to feed Lamar County football players pre-game and pre-practice meals from August 2015 through January 2016 and reported salary expenditures for the football feeding program staff through April 2016. Lamar County’s 2015 football season ended Nov. 13 with a first round playoff loss to Early County. According to the report, feeding program funds were improperly used to pay the following ADSCS employees/ contractors: Nattie Collins, Pamela Corona, Narkeshia Evans-Jones, James Lindsey, Elmira Taylor, Bryant Ponder, Sherry Jones, Sherry Strange, Nikeria Walker, Francesca Raines, Karen Morgan, Leslie Henderson, Kelvin Henderson, Willie Williams, Brenda Lawrence, Michael Jones, Billy Williams, Tokisha Walker, Dayann Hines, Rufus Clemons, Linda Fletcher-Penn, Gwendolyn Byrd, Wanda Johnson, Bobby Edge, Leroy Starks and April Smith herself. Complaints to DECAL by Jones, Lindsey and Edge led to the probe of ADSCS. In multiple years, ADSCS should have carried substantial funding balances but showed negative balances instead, audits showed. For example, at the end of FY 2016, there should have been a balance of $72,098.54 but the account was in the red by $7,191.52. During seven trips to Ingle’s during the period July 25-August 3, 2016, ADSCS improperly spent $3,053.28 on chips which are not approved for meals. A sampling of other disallowed expenses included: $22,395.20 in overdraft and other financial services fees; $6,140.78 in cell phone expenses; $3,000 in rent; $204 for Atlanta Falcons tickets; $848.57 to Geico Insurance; $610 to the City of Newnan; $503.99 to Mitch’s Automotive; $520 to PMB Rentals; $239 to Charter Communications and $55.23 to Party City. Stead Walker is listed in many of the complaint letters to ADSCS as chairman of the board but additional correspondence indicates he resigned that post at some point. In correspondence dated, March 24, 2017, April 13, 2017 and April 26, 2017, Smith and Walker were notified that ADSCS was terminated as an SFSP provider. The letters noted ADSCS owed $59,036.47 for FY 2016 disallowed costs; $3,237.88 for FY 2016 disallowed meals and $80,474.48 for disallowed costs during the period October, 2015-April, 2016 for a total of $142,748.83. Interest began to accrue upon dispatch of the April 26 correspondence. No payment had been made as of press time and criminal prosecution hangs in the balance.

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