CHICAGO — A Chicago pastor was indicted Friday for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a federal program intended to feed needy kids. The State Board of Education said he got the money without having to undergo a background check.
At first, neighbors thought Rev. Clarence Smith Jr. of Lawndale’s New Life Impact Church was going to do something good for the block.
“He was coming around in Jordans and Bentleys and new cars,” Ravin Cosey said. “I’m like, ‘What a minute. Pastors don’t do that.’”
Smith Jr., 45, has been indicted on federal charges claiming he stole more than $800,000 from programs intended to feed kids who live in impoverished neighborhoods.
Court records allege Smith Jr. deposited checks into his own bank account then used the money to buy a $142,000 Bentley.
Investigators said he tried to cover it up. He claimed his financial records had been damaged in a flood.
Smith Jr., who often posts on social media about second chances and redemption, was not at his church Friday. But neighbors said he often sleeps there. It doesn’t hold services anymore.
Questions still remain about how Smith Jr. was able to get the money in the first place.
In 2011 he pleaded guilty to stealing $100,000 from an elderly man in DuPage county.
Why federal authorities would then cut him $100,000 checks less than five years later is unclear.
Smith Jr.’s lawyer had no comment.
The state Board of Education said Smith Jr. ran a daycare. The board noticed something was wrong in 2016 and terminated him from the food program. At that time he owed them $3.3 million. They did not tell us why he was allowed to be part of the food program in the first place given his felony record. The released documents and a statement that said:
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.
The board added:
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."
Neighbors and an employee at Farm on Ogden tell WGN Smith Jr. worked with the Chicago Botanic Garden's Windy City Harvest program. But a spokesperson for the Chicago Botanic Garden said, “We do not verify if an individual is an employee or not without consent from the employee.”