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Founders of Angel Food Ministries Plead Guilty To Skimming Millions for Personal Gain

Update: Family members get 7-year sentences after $140-million food ministry closes.

Update (Aug. 30): Angel Food Ministries (AFM) founder Joe Wingo, along with his son, Andrew Wingo, received seven-year prison sentences after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering. They had faced possible prison sentences of 85 years, but agreed to a plea deal in February. Linda Wingo, Wesley's wife, drew five years of probation after pleading guilty to the concealment of a felony.

"Pure and simple, this case is about greed," U.S. Attorney Michael Moore said in a press release. "The Wingos solicited donations of time from kind, goodhearted 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."

Judge C. Ashley Royal also ordered the Wingos to forfeit a combined $3.9 million.

Attorney Edward Tolley, who represented Linda Wingo in the case, said the family was not aware of the felony they were committing. "I think this case more than any other reflects the danger of unguided use of a (tax-exempt) corporation," Tolley told the Athens Banner-Herald. "When you operate a nonprofit organization you cannot treat it as your own and that's the mistake that was made by the Wingo family."

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[First published Feb. 26, 2013]

The founders of Georgia-based Angel Food Ministries (AFM), a former $140-million distributor of discounted food via church networks, pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraud and money laundering today–five years after the FBI's investigation into the Wingo family's misuse of ministry funds originally began.

The FBI investigation, which began in 2007, led to a 49-count indictment against Joe and Linda Wingo and their son Andy in 2011, and eventually forced the shutdown of AFM. Now, the Walton Tribune reports that the Wingos "will be sentenced May 29 in Macon for committing crimes that destroyed the once-proud Monroe-based company designed to help the needy through the sale of low-cost food boxes."

The indictment charged the Wingos with using AFM funds for personal gain, collecting kickbacks from vendors, and selling excess inventory for personal profit.

Joe and Andy Windo pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and both remain in custody. Linda Wingo, who only pleaded guilty to concealment of a felony, has been released.

In addition, the Wingos' partner Harry Michaels pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

CT previously reported on the Wingos in 2009, when they were first raided by federal investigators, and noted how the lawsuits they faced were a warning about family-run mega-ministries. (One lawsuit was later settled.)

CT noted AFM's shutdown in September 2011, and examined whether or not "motive matters if a ministry is doing good."

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Posted:February 26, 2013 at 5:00PM
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