In an Atlanta federal court, Antonio T. Hurt pleaded guilty April 9 to stealing nearly $2 million from a program that partially reimburses day care centers for the cost of meals for needy children.
Hurt, 38, of Baltimore, Md., was formerly the Stockbridge High School principal.
Sentencing is scheduled for June 18 at 2 p.m. before U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg.
“This defendant stole nearly $2 million in funds intended to feed underprivileged children,” U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement. “This critically important program provides basic sustenance for those most in need. Instead of paying for school day nutrition, he used the money to expand his day care business, lease luxury cars, buy jewelry, and pay for other personal expenses.
We will continue to hold accountable those who siphon off public funds for personal use.”
According to Yates, between 2007 and 2010, Hurt served as the chief executive officer of Bright Star Early Learning Center, which owned and operated multiple day care centers throughout metro Atlanta and north Georgia under the name Bright Star.
Hurt also entered into franchise agreements that allowed multiple additional third-party day care centers to operate under the Bright Star name.
In February 2006, Hurt arranged for the learning center to apply to participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the National School Lunch Act of 1964, is a federal program that partially reimburses day care centers for the cost of serving breakfast and lunch to eligible children whose family income falls below certain thresholds.
Beginning in October 2007 and continuing through January 2010, Hurt submitted millions of dollars in reimbursement claims to the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning on behalf of his own day care centers and his franchisees.
Hurt’s reimbursement claims intentionally misstated the number of eligible students, meals and other information, Yates said.
“As a result, the department issued fraudulently inflated reimbursement funds to an account that Hurt controlled,” she said. “Hurt then issued the expected payments to the unsuspecting day care centers, and retained the fraudulently inflated portion for himself, amounting to about $1.9 million over a two-year period.”
Hurt used the money to expand and fund the operation of his day care business, obtaining multimillion dollar acquisition and development loans to build new day care centers, and in order to live beyond his means, Bobby Cagle, department commissioner, said in a statement.
“No amount of waste or fraud or even attempted waste or fraud will be tolerated and we will continue to turn these cases over for criminal prosecution and seek restitution wherever it is appropriate. This is literally taking food from those who need it most--infants, young children, the elderly, and chronically impaired disabled persons,” he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David M. Chaiken is prosecuting the case, which also involves the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Hurt’s attorney Alan R. Deal did not respond to an emailed request for comment by press time.