Caddo commissioner, sister indicted on federal fraud charges

Lynn CawthorneCaddo Parish Commissioner Lynn Cawthorne was indicted Thursday on charges he diverted money from a federal child-nutrition program to his own use. Federal prosecutors said more than $536,000 was stolen over a four-year period.

Cawthorne was the president of a social-service agency that received federal money for the summer meals program, which was to feed underprivileged children when they could not get free meals at school. He is accused of exaggerating the number of meals actually provided.

Cawthorne, 51, was named in an eight-count federal indictment charging wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Also indicted was Cawthorne's sister, Belena Turner, the social-service agency's director.

"He's concerned like anybody would be," defense attorney Marty Stroud said of Cawthorne. "He's anxious to see exactly what the allegations are. He's a very pleasant individual to work with and he's concerned, like anybody would be if they were indicted.

"He has confidence in the ultimate outcome of this case," said Stroud, who would not comment on the specifics of the case. "We intend to look at everything and present a defense accordingly."

Cawthorne was president of United Citizens and Neighborhood. Turner operates a Shreveport child care center.

Prosecutors said Cawthorne's claims for reimbursement from the government "greatly inflated the number of eligible meals provided, thus claiming more children were fed at UCAN sites than were actually fed," U.S. Attorney David Joseph said. The indictment said the alleged theft of money occurred between 2011 and 2015.

"If there wasn't lies told, it (the money) could have gone somewhere else and fed kids," said Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator, whose office was called into the investigation of Cawthorne by the Office of Inspector General.

Cawthorne and Turner also set up a shell company, Harvest Catering, and listed someone else as the company manager, the indictment alleged, identifying that other person only as an unindicted co-conspirator. Harvest Catering and Cawthorne Catering allegedly provided food to UCAN, prosecutors said.

Cawthorne was appointed to the Caddo Commission in September 2015 to serve the remaining term of Commissioner Lindora Baker, who resigned. He was elected in October 2015 to serve a full four-year term on the commission. He represents a part of west-central Shreveport. Turner was his campaign manager.

Earlier this month, the state Education Department sued Cawthorne, United Citizens and Neighborhoods, and three of Cawthorne's partners, seeking to recover $131,507 in alleged overpayments. The civil suit alleged money intended for meals was converted to personal use.

Cawthorne was not arrested. He is scheduled to make his initial court appearance on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Shreveport.

Cawthorne is the second Caddo commissioner to be indicted on federal charges in as many years. Former Commissioner Michael Williams spent just over a year in prison after being convicted in March 2016 by a federal jury on 11 counts of wire fraud.

Williams took more than $8,000 from the bank account of SWAG Nation, a nonprofit that also received public funds from the Caddo Commission at Williams’ urging. He made cash withdrawals from the fund that was set up to help at-risk youth.

Williams, who was freed from prison late last year, remains under federal supervision. It's a part of his sentence that extends for three years after his release.


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