Chicago pastor charged for stealing over $800k meant to feed needy kids – spent $142,000 on Bentley

Francis Akhalbey Jan 17, 2020 at 11:00am

January 17, 2020 at 11:00 am | Crime News, News

Francis Akhalbey

Francis Akhalbey | Staff Writer

January 17, 2020 at 11:00 am | Crime News, News

This is not the first time Rev. Clarence Smith Jr. of New Life Impact Church in Lawndale has found himself in the grips of the law for financial misconduct.

How he was able to secure funding for the Child and Adult Care Food Program after his first conviction remains a mystery.

According to WGN, the 45-year-old was indicted on federal charges January 10 for allegedly stealing over $800,000 in funds meant for feeding needy kids in impoverished communities. The pastor, who deposited the checks into his personal bank account subsequently went on a spending spree that included splashing $142,000 on a Bentley luxury car.

The State Board of Education confirmed his eligibility to be a recipient of funds for the food program was as a result of not going through a background check.

“He was coming around in Jordans and Bentleys and new cars,” Ravin Cosey told WGN. “I’m like, ‘What a minute. Pastors don’t do that.’”

Under the Child and Adult Care Food Program, Smith’s New Life was contracted to provide food to needy children at several places in the city and subsequently charging the state for cost incurred, the indictment stated, according to the Chicago Tribune. Smith, however, allegedly inflated the number of meals he served the kids, billing the state almost $1 million for services he rendered within a year which started in October 2015.

Smith received the funds in two installments in July 2016. In a bid to hide and cover up his fraudulent activities, Smith told the state Board of Education the records of the expenses and the number of children he had fed in the program “had been damaged in a flood and were no longer available,” the Chicago Tribune further reports.

Despite bloating the costs incurred during the said period, Smith was not making good on payments to food vendors he had contracted as he was sued in Cook County Circuit Court for non-payment of services rendered. He, however, managed to settle both lawsuits, which were to the tune of $512,000 and $45,000 respectively.

Albeit indicted, the “man of God” continues to be active on social media, with one of his recent Facebook posts promoting his church.

“One of the worst things in the world is not to learn from your prior mistakes. GOD has me doing a self-evaluation on where I messed up prior so I won’t do the same in the future,” he posted Monday, the Chicago Tribune further reports.

Not a first time offender, Smith pleaded guilty to forging signatures to steal over $100,000 from an elderly man in 2011.

Smith’s meal contract was terminated by the state Board of Education in 2016 after he was flagged for irregularities. He owed $3.3 million, according to WGN. The board, however, did not disclose how he became eligible despite his past conviction.

“The Child and Adult Care Food Program is a federal grant program administered in part by the Illinois State Board of Education. The CACFP serves nutritious meals and snacks to eligible children and adults who are enrolled for care at participating child care centers, day care homes, and adult day care centers. Federal law defines program participants as eligible public or private nonprofit child care centers, outside-school-hours care centers, Head Start programs, and other institutions which are licensed or approved to provide day care services.

“ISBE terminated New Life Community Ministries, Clarence Smith, and Eric Cunningham from CACFP participation and disqualified them from future CACFP participation, effective August 20, 2016.

“ISBE also notified the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Investigation,” a statement from the board read, WGN reports.

“Federal requirements do not include a background check for program operators. ISBE does check to ensure each applicant has not been placed on the National Disqualified List.

“In addition, the applicant must agree to the certification statements in the permanent agreement, which include:

“I certify that neither the institution nor any of its key individuals has been convicted during the past seven years of any activities that indicate a lack of business integrity. Lack of business integrity includes fraud, antitrust violations, embezzlement, theft, forgery, bribery, falsification or destruction of records, making false statements, receiving stolen property, making false claims, obstruction of justice, or any other activities indicating a lack of business integrity as defined by the State Agency.”

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