Woman gets nine years
Meal-fraud helper given sentence in U.S. lockup
A former state Department of Human Services employee who admitted taking bribes to help several people submit phony claims that they provided meals for low-income children in Arkansas was sentenced Monday to nine years in federal prison, where parole is unavailable.
U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. sentenced Gladys Waits, who is also known as Gladys King, to the 108-month sentence, at the low end of a penalty range recommended by federal sentencing guidelines.
Defense attorney Molly Sullivan of the federal public defender’s office in Little Rock sought a probation-only sentence, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Jana Harris asked only for a sentence within the guideline range, citing Waits’ cooperation in the prosecution of several people who, altogether, defrauded a staterun U.S. Department of Agriculture program of more than $9.6 million.
Restitution of the full amount — $9,669,269.66 — is required in federal fraud cases. Moody ordered Waits to pay it “jointly and severally” with all other defendants who are eventually sentenced in the case.
Moody ordered Waits, 37, of Little Rock to pay 50 percent of all money available to her toward the restitution while she is in prison. He ordered her to then pay 10 percent of all money available to her once she enters a societal re-entry program, and to continue paying 10 percent of her available money upon her release.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Givens, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said later that defendants who fail to pay restitution while on probation, or supervised release, can have their probation revoked and be returned to prison if federal prosecutors file a revocation request and a judge agrees.
He said if a defendant pays restitution while on probation but then stops after the sentence is completed, the civil financial litigation unit of the U.S. attorney’s office takes over the case. The unit would seek a civil judgment against the defendant for the remaining amount, allowing the government to garnish wages or obtain liens on property.
Moody noted that because of her cooperation, Waits’ sentence may later be reduced further at the request of prosecutors.
Waits and Tonique Hatton, a former grants coordinator for the state Department of Human Services, were the key witnesses at a March trial of Waits’ estranged husband, Anthony Waits, 38, and Jacqueline Mills, 41. Both Anthony Waits, of England in Lonoke County, and Mills, of Helena-West Helena, were convicted of wire-fraud conspiracy and are awaiting sentencing.
Hatton, 39, of North Little Rock is serving a nine-year prison term after she, like Gladys Waits, pleaded guilty before the trial. They admitted to being the “gatekeepers” for the fraud scheme, which operated between early 2012 and August 2014.
The two state employees admitted they recruited and helped people qualify as sponsors to feed children through USDA programs administered by the state, knowing the so-called sponsors intended to defraud the program. Waits and Hatton also helped the phony sponsors fill out documentation that they provided meals, so the sponsors could receive government reimbursements deposited directly into their checking accounts.
Even in cases where sponsors provided some meals or snacks to children for whom the program was intended, those figures were dramatically exaggerated, prosecutors said. In many cases, they said, no children were fed at all.
Waits, who processed applications from potential sponsors, determined their eligibility and approved their feeding-site locations, is the eighth person to be sentenced for her involvement in the food-program fraud. She admitted taking bribes both directly and through payments to Anthony Waits, whom a jury found demanded a percentage of proceeds received from sponsors he recruited.
Other defendants who have been sentenced to date, other than Hatton, are Kattie Jordan, 51, of Dermott, sentenced to 63 months, or just over five years, in March 2016; Reuben Nims, 53, who was Gladys Waits’ brotherin-law and was sentenced on Nov. 2 to 21 months in prison; James Franklin Jr. of Marianna, sentenced in January to two years; Maria Nelson, a former contracted security officer for the federal administration building in Little Rock, who was sentenced in January to 2½ years; Michael Lee, sentenced May 1 to 2½ years; and Christopher Nichols, the nephew of Gladys and Anthony Waits, who was sentenced May 16 to three years’ probation.
Five others have been convicted of wire-fraud conspiracy and await sentencing.
The investigation is ongoing by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General, the FBI, the IRS’ Criminal Investigations unit and the U.S. Marshals Service. It is being prosecuted by Harris and assistant U.S. Attorneys Allison Bragg and Cameron McCree.
The U.S. attorney’s office asks that anyone aware of any fraudulent activity regarding the food programs email the information to USAARE. FeedingProgramFraud@usdoj.gov.