Commissioner Cawthorne and sister allegedly owe state thousands for false feeding program

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A Caddo Parish Commissioner was federally indicted Thursday for stealing half-a-million dollars from a children’s summer feeding program. Lynn Cawthorne who represents District 6 and his sister Belena Turner are charged with wire fraud for using the money for personal use. 

Before the federal charges, they’re being sued by the state to pay back more than 130-thousand dollars. 

According to court documents, the Louisiana Department of Education sent Belena Turner multiple notices between 2014 and 2015 saying there were discrepancies in her paperwork and where their facility was located. 

The Division of Nutrition Support conducted a review in July of 2014 of Turner and Cawthorne’s non-profit, United Citizen and Neighborhoods. Their application lists Dreamkeepers Academy in Shreveport as a site where children were receiving the summer meals. However, when officials went there, they found it was not being operated at the address listed in their application and no meals were being served.

Dreamkeepers Academy has three different addresses listed online. A Facebook page lists a former church location on Melara Avenue, their website shows a home on Oakdale Drive which near another site listed online as the address for United Citizen and Neighborhoods. A Google-search shows another location at an abandoned building on Linwood Avenue.  

When state officials found the location where Turner was operating as executive director, officials also found two people who were not named on the approved application were receiving paychecks. 
    
Letters to Turner from the Division of Nutrition Support said she failed to provide adequate records during their review. It showed the amount of meals given to children in the summer of 2014 did not add up correctly.

The documents also allege the non-profit received 132-thousand dollars for meals they did not serve in 2014.

Four people are listed as personally liable including Cawthorne, Turner and Robert Williams and Dwight Jarrett who are shown as living in New Orleans. 

When the non-profit didn’t repay the money, their feeding program was terminated and the case was handed over to the State Attorney General.

Cawthorne and Turner are set to appear in federal court on Wednesday. They face up to 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud if convicted. 

The Parish sent a statement saying they are aware of the charges and do not have a comment. 

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