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Posted: August 30, 2013 12:30 p.m.

Angel Food Ministries founder sentenced to 7 years in federal court

File photo/

Angel Food Ministries headquarters in Monroe in 2009.

Angel Food Ministries founder Wesley Joseph (Joe) Wingo; his son, Andrew (Andy) Wingo; and his wife and AFM Co-Founder Linda Wingo were sentenced today in federal court for illegal financial activities involving AFM.

AFM, based in Monroe, was a non-profit, tax exempt 501(c) organization founded in 1994 by defendants Joe and Linda Wingo. AFM's primary stated mission was to provide food to the nation's needy at discounted prices.

Joe Wingo entered a plea of guilty on February 25 to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. As an AFM founder, and its former president, chief operating officer, and member of the Board of Directors, Joe Wingo oversaw all the operations of AFM, which included his involvement in all aspects of the financial operations of AFM.

Joe Wingo admitted that he used his position and control over AFM to make several purchases and expenditures for his personal benefit, including a classic car, without the knowledge and approval of the AFM Board of Directors. Mr. Wesley Joseph Wingo also permitted other members of his family to do the same on many occasions, only later to issue "bonuses" to family members in an effort to conceal misapplied AFM funds used to pay for personal expenses.

Joe Wingo, age 64, of Good Hope, Ga., was sentenced today by the Honorable C. Ashley Royal, Chief United States District Judge, in Macon to serve 84 months in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering. As a part of his sentence, he was ordered to forfeit $1,503,285 and to pay a $15,000 criminal fine.

Andy Wingo also entered a plea of guilty on February 25, to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. During his tenure with AFM, Andy Wingo held various titles including chief operating officer and head of Procurement. Andy Wingo admitted that while serving in these positions, he used various illegal schemes to convert funds that belonged to AFM to his own personal benefit, including purchasing a new home for himself.

Andy Wingo, age 40, of Good Hope, was sentenced today in Macon to serve 84 months in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering. As a part of his sentence, he was ordered to forfeit $2,400,000.

Linda Wingo likewise entered a plea of guilty on February 25, to one count of misprision of a felony (having knowledge of but concealing the commission of a crime). Mrs. Wingo, along with her husband, Joe Wingo, was an AFM founder. In her plea of guilty, she admitted that she was aware that AFM was generating more money than was needed to meet its overhead as the result of the illegal financial transactions that were being made by her son, Andy Wingo. She admitted to having knowledge that her son was obtaining money illegally from specific vendors doing business with AFM and using it for personal benefit instead of providing services to the needy. Additionally, she admitted that when a search warrant was executed on AFM during the investigation, she attempted to conceal facts relating to these financial crimes.

Linda Wingo, age 64, of Good Hope was sentenced today in Macon to a term of five years of probation for misprision of a felony. She was ordered to pay a $25,000 criminal fine.

United States Attorney Michael Moore said, "pure and simple, this case is about greed. The Wingos solicited donations of time from kind, good-hearted people in the name of God's call for us to feed the hungry and help those in need. Then, instead of using that generosity to fill the pantries of the people they claimed to be called to minister to, the Wingos filled their garage with a classic automobile, their hangar with a private plane, and their pockets with cash. When people gave their volunteer labor to Angel Food Ministries because they believed they were supposed to help their fellow man, little did they know that they were supporting the Wingos' lavish lifestyle. When I think about the people who didn't get food because Mr. Wingo wanted a new car and a new plane, it is both sad and troubling that these individuals preyed on the goodness of the many God-fearing folks around the country who made donations of their time simply to enrich themselves."

After receiving almost $7 million in a low-interest community facilities direct loan from the United States Department of Agriculture in 2005, AFM purchased a large distribution center in Monroe and used its considerable purchasing power and its tax-exempt status to gain volume discounts from various food vendors. In the process of growing from a local to a regional to a national nonprofit organization, AFM utilized churches from around the country, known as host sites, to coordinate the charitable efforts of thousands of volunteers to distribute food to the needy in over 40 states.

The fact that AFM was tax exempt, that it was able to purchase in large volume at a discount, and that its distribution network was in large part manned by volunteer labor resulted in a large amount of annual revenue, an amount well in excess of expenses.

"The Wingos exploited family, friends, and neighbors by perpetrating a scheme that was based on lies," said Veronica Hyman-Pillot, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation. "IRS-CI is committed to unraveling financial transactions and money laundering schemes where individuals attempt to conceal the true source of their money. The sentences announced today reinforce the commitment by law enforcement and the United States Attorney's Office that individuals who line their pockets with profits from fraudulent schemes will be held accountable."

Mark F. Giuliano, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation-Atlanta Field Office, stated, "Today's sentencings bring to a close an extensive and complex federal investigation involving, at its core, abuses of charitable activities related tax laws and diversion of funds derived from those charitable activities. In order for these various non-profit based laws to be able to provide benefit and relief to groups and organizations as intended, the FBI, in conjunction with its various law enforcement partners, is duty-bound to investigate these types of allegations of criminal conduct within those organizations operating under non-profit status as Angel Food Ministries claimed to be."

The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Sharon T. Ratley, Danial E. Bennett, and Graham A. Thorpe.

 
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