Caddo commissioner, sister plead not guilty to summer meals program fraud

Indicted commissioner's attorney takes issue with sheriff's statement
Published: May. 10, 2018 at 8:48 PM CDT|Updated: May. 10, 2018 at 10:41 PM CDT
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CADDO PARISH, LA (KSLA) - Caddo Parish Commissioner Lynn Cawthorne and his sister, Belena C. Turner, pleaded not guilty in federal court Thursday. Both were indicted for stealing over $500,000 from a program meant to supply meals to children during the summer.

Cawthorne, 51, and Turner, 46, both of Shreveport, are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and seven counts of wire fraud.

Beginning in early 2011 and continuing until December 2015, the pair fraudulently obtained more than $536,000 from the SFSP by engaging in numerous activities to defraud, included filing claims for reimbursement that greatly inflated the number of eligible meals provided, thus claiming more children were fed at UCAN sites than were actually fed.

In addition, money was transferred to the catering companies and other entities so that the defendants could improperly use funds that were  entrusted to UCAN for the SFSP.

Cawthorne and Turner both face 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, restitution and a $250,000 fine for each count.

Immediately after the arraignment, while speaking with media outside the federal courthouse Cawthorne's attorney, Former U.S. Attorney J. Ransdell Keene said he wanted to make a distinction about the summer feeding program.

"Every child that showed up was fed," said Keene.

His remarks were a response to a statement made by Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator on April 26, the day indictments were handed down against Cawthorne and his sister.

Prator said at the time, "These are kids that didn't get fed that were supposed to get fed."

Prator explained that if that money had not been allegedly misdirected by Cawthorne it would have been spent on other children.

And that's what also prompted Sheriff Prator to conclude at the time: "I don't want you to steal from anybody. But, if you're gonna steal from somebody don't be stealing from the kids or the old people. You know, that's just not right."

Prosecutors allege it was Cawthorne who controlled the money while Turner handled the documents, funneling the money from their non-profit.

The majority of the court appearance was actually spent on any potential conflicts of interest with defense attorney Marty Stroud.

Stroud briefly represented Cawthorne after a grand jury subpoena, but now represents his sister Belena Turner. Both waived any concerns about Stroud's loyalties, for example, if one of them decided to cooperate with prosecutors.

Next up is a status conference with the judge on June 21.

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