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Joe Wingo failed to foresee the cloud he would hang over his family and his nonprofit, Angel Food Ministries in Monroe, Georgia, when he brought his wife and two sons in to help run it.

He wanted them to share God's work. It was a good—and lucrative—family life until the FBI came in February to investigate allegations of financial mismanagement. Wingo, his wife, Linda, and sons Andy and Wesley now find themselves under criminal investigation and named in four lawsuits from two dissident board members and former employees.

Some flags noted in IRS documents and the lawsuits include ballooning family salaries of around a half-million dollars each, unsecured loans to the family from the nonprofit, and commingling the nonprofit's business with a church the Wingos pastor.

There are lessons to be learned about the dangers of mixing family with a rapidly growing ministry, experts say.

"Surely red flags were waving, but nothing was done," said Wayne Rivers, cofounder of the consulting group Family Business Institute in Raleigh, North Carolina. "I would think if the nonprofit board were paying attention, there wouldn't be an FBI investigation."

From the beginning, the board functioned more like a friends-and-family phone plan than an independent group of businesspeople. When Angel Food was a back-porch operation feeding local laid-off mill workers, it worked.

But in little more than a decade, it grew to a $140-million-a-year nonprofit with about 300 employees, selling prepackaged boxes of groceries at food-broker prices by distributing them through a network of 5,000 churches and their volunteers.

Now, pastors are calling with questions and saying they will not expand their food sales until the cloud is lifted, ...

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In the Magazine

July 2009

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