An Oak Park pastor, his wife and three associates who were charged in September 2015 with defrauding a federal summer food program for low-income children out of roughly $450,000 pleaded guilty to multiple charges earlier this year.
According to a statement released by the Department of Justice on May 30, Rev. Robbie Wilkerson, 49, the founding pastor of New Birth Christian Center in Austin, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering. Wilkerson’s wife, Tasha, 44, pleaded guilty to theft of government funds.
Three of the Oak Park couple’s associates—Downers Grove pastor Anthony Hall, 54; Richard Shumate, 51, and a program operations manager for the food program; and his wife, Evelyn Shumate, 48, who was an assistant for the program—each pleaded guilty to one count of theft of government funds.
According to a 2015 indictment, Wilkerson filed paperwork in 2010 for New Birth to administer the Summer Food Service Program, which is offered by an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The pastor submitted an operating budget of $446,440 to the Illinois State Board of Education, which administered funding for the federal food program at the state level. But by the time the program had ended, the indictment claimed, Wilkerson and his co-defendants had allegedly made $700,000 worth of false claims.
For instance, the program organizers claimed to have served around 270,000 meals to low-income children over the summer although an investigation by the Department of Agriculture determined that the actual number of meals they served turned out to be fewer than 100,000, according to the indictment.
Wilkerson and his co-defendants allegedly kept $450,000 for a range of personal expenses, such as $37,000 to buy housing in Memphis for Wilkerson’s parents and nearly $30,000 to buy a 2011 Hyundai Sonata.
According to the May statement put out by the Justice Department, both Robbie and Tasha Wilkerson admitted “that they embezzled more than $100,000 from the program, including more than $60,000 in direct payments to themselves, at the same time Tasha was paid as an employee of Youth Outreach Services, Chicago, as a prevention coordinator.
“In addition, more than $10,000 was given directly to relatives; $20,000 in cash and other withdrawals from NBCC’s bank account; $46,000 to purchase real estate in Chicago; and $37,109 to purchase a residence in Memphis, Tenn., for Robbie Wilkerson’s parents.”
Hall admitted to embezzling roughly $51,000 in USDA funds for personal expenses while the Shumates admitted to embezzling between $40,000 and $95,000 in USDA fund for personal expenses, including nearly $29,000 to buy the Hyundai Sonata.
The federal government has recommended that Robbie Wilkerson be sentenced to 37 months in prison and ordered to pay at least $400,000 in restitution. The government recommended “a split sentence of five months in prison followed by five months of home confinement” and restitution for each of the pastor’s co-defendants, including Tasha Wilkerson, Hall, and the Richard and Evelyn Shumate.
Robbie and Tasha Wilkerson are scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 6 while Hall’s sentence date is set for Sept. 22. The sentencing hearing for Richard and Evelyn Shumate is scheduled for Sept. 15.