A pastor who founded a church in Austin was recently sentenced to more than three years in prison and ordered to pay restitution after he was found guilty of defrauding a federal summer food program out of roughly $450,000.
In May, Rev. Robbie Wilkerson, 50, along with his wife, Tasha Wilkerson, 45, both of Oak Park, and three associates — Anthony Hall, 55; Richard Shumate, 52; and Evelyn Shumate, 49 — all pled guilty to various charges.
Wilkerson, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering, was sentenced to 37 months in prison and three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay nearly $441,000 in restitution.
His wife, Tasha, who pled guilty to theft of government funds, was sentenced to one year in prison and three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay roughly $40,000 in restitution.
Wilkerson is the founding pastor of New Birth Christian Center in Austin. According to the 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.
As Austin Weekly News reported in August, 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.
Wilkerson and his collaborators claimed to have served around 270,000 meals to low-income children over the summer, but the Department of Agriculture conducted an investigation and concluded that the number of meals served turned out to be fewer than 100,000.
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.
The Justice Department stated in May that the Wilkersons admitted “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, Tennessee, for Robbie Wilkerson’s parents.”
Hall, a New Birth pastor from Downers Grove who was also the business administrator for the food program, pleaded guilty to embezzling around $51,000 for personal expenses. He was sentenced to five years of probation and 10 months of home confinement, and ordered to pay roughly $40,000 in restitution.