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Indictment alleges lavish spending by Georgia charity founders

December 9, 2011 |  9:52 am

A federal indictment alleges that the founders of Georgia-based food program Angel Food Ministries engaged in fraud and other crimes
The Georgia charity known as Angel Food Ministries was created with the intention of buying food in bulk and distributing it at a low cost to the poor and the hungry.

And that it did, distributing its boxes to millions of struggling Americans in 45 states until its founders, Joe and Linda Wingo, shut down in September, citing the poor economy and rising costs.

But as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, the charity, based in the northeast Georgia city of Monroe, was also the subject of a federal investigation. Details of a new federal indictment allege that the Wingos used the charity to enrich themselves, purchasing jewelry, clothes and a $65,000 classic car and making a $280,000 down payment on a Beechjet 400A airplane.

The 49-count indictment was filed Tuesday against the Wingos, who went by the names "Pastor Joe" and "Pastor Linda," as well as their son, Andrew Wingo, and an Angel Food employee, the Associated Press reported. The charges include fraud and conspiracy to launder money.

The criminal charges appear to have been sparked by a lawsuit filed by two members of Angel Food's board of directors, according to the Journal-Constitution.

In the indictment, prosecutors allege that the Wingos reaped more than $1.48 million by granting themselves and others lavish bonuses. They allege Joe Wingo spent $5,000 at a spa and $5,400 on jewelry at Macy's. Linda Wingo allegedly bought clothes and home appliances worth more than $15,000.

The indictment alleges that the Wingos tried to hinder an FBI investigation, asking employees not to reveal information and requesting that one of them destroy a hard drive. It also alleges that Andy Wingo and the employee, Harry Michaels, insisted that vendors pay kickbacks in order to do business with the charity. Joe Wingo allegedly paid bonuses to employees, reimbursing them for contributions he told them to make to a politician's campaign.

Edward Tolley, an Athens, Ga., attorney representing Linda Wingo, told the Journal-Constitution that the Wingos believed they would be "vindicated." The paper was unable to obtain comments from other indicted individuals or their lawyers.

The four are expected to appear in court next week and enter not guilty pleas.

In March 2008, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives singled out Angel Food as an example of "effective models for Federal collaboration with faith-based and community organizations."

The office praised Angel Food's track record of feeding nearly 2.5 million people per month.


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Photo: The offices of Angel Food Ministries in March 2009. Credit: John Bazemore / Associated Press