Just a few days before he was set to go on trial to face federal charges, Caddo Parish Commissioner Lynn Cawthorne pleads guilty.

The 56-year-old  Cawthorne and his sister, 50-year-old Belena Turner both pled guilty to wire fraud in connection to their involvement in a scheme to defraud the Food and Nutrition Service.

Cawthorne also pled guilty to a charge of of aiding and assisting in making and subscribing a false tax return in connection with a separate indictment that was returned by a federal grand jury against him in December 2019.

The Feds issued this information about the case:

The Summer Feeding Service Program (SFSP) was established to ensure that children in low-income areas continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session during the summer. Cawthorne was president of United Citizens and Neighborhoods, Inc. (UCAN) and Turner was the executive director. In 2013, Turner and Cawthorne caused UCAN to apply to the LDOE to participate in the SFSP at various feeding sites in north Louisiana.

The Federal Charges Also Include Specific Allegations

Turner and Cawthorne represented to the LDOE that Harvest Catering would be providing catering services to UCAN at its SFSP sites. In a claim for reimbursement, the defendants submitted a false claim which resulted in a wire being sent on May 20, 2013. On that same date, the LDOE electronically transferred $33,080.78 to UCAN’s bank account using a wire communication traveling in interstate commerce through the Western District of Louisiana. On May 24, 2013, Turner drafted and eventually negotiated a check made payable to a non-profit under her control called Dreamkeepers Academy. In addition, on May 30, 2013, Cawthorne drafted a UCAN check made payable to Harvest Catering in the amount of $8,000. Cawthorne and Turner either via cash withdrawal, check negotiation or debit card used a portion of these funds for personal use and not for the SFSP.

Cawthorne and Turner could each be sentenced to as long as 20 years in prison and face fines of as much as $250,000.

Both are set to be sentenced on March 16.

The next question is can Cawthorne remain on the Caddo Commission. The answer is No.

The Parish Charter says 

A commissioner shall forfeit the office if such commissioner during the term of office (1) lacks any qualification for the office prescribed by this Charter, (2) is convicted by final judgment of a felony under Louisiana or United States law, or of a crime in any other jurisdiction which would be a felony if committed in this state.

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