URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — A former Champaign pastor has been sentenced to 10 months in federal prison following a guilty plea of misusing federal funds for personal use instead of community and educational programs the funds were intended for.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Michael Mihm sentenced Lekevie Johnson on charges of federal program misapplication, student loan misapplication and making false bankruptcy statements. In addition to the prison sentence, Johnson must pay almost $60,000 in restitution.
Johnson pleaded guilty to the charges leveled against him in December. In doing so, he admitted to using nearly $57,000 worth of federal funds for his own benefit, which included gambling as casinos. Part of the money was meant to help him pursue a Master of Arts degree through the online program provided by Liberty University in Virginia. That money was meant for educational purposes only, a stipulation Johnson certified he would abide by.
The rest of the money was from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urbana Development to help his nonprofit organization Life Line Champaign Inc. The organization provided summer enrichment programs for low-income students in the Garden Hills neighborhood of Champaign.
Johnson also admitted to falsely declaring bankruptcy. Prosecutors said he claimed to have received far less money from his church than he actually did receive and testified under oath that he had disclosed all payments he received from the church. He also testified that he had no control over the church’s finances, testimony that prosecutors said was false.
At Johnson’s sentencing hearing, Mihm found that, although Johnson suffered from a gambling addition, his crimes were the result of his voluntary choices. Those crimes, Mihm said, hurt the disadvantaged children of Garden Hills as they did not benefit from as intended from the grant provided.
“Abuse of the bankruptcy system by making false statements, utilizing federal program monies for gambling purposes and concealing those acts strikes at the very core of the integrity of the bankruptcy system and undermines public confidence in that system,” said Nancy JGargula, United States Trustee for Indiana, Central and Southern Illinois. “Today’s sentencing sends a strong message that these actions will not be tolerated. I am grateful to U.S. Attorney Harris and our law enforcement partners for their strong commitment to combating fraud and abuse in bankruptcy cases.”
Mihm ordered Johnson, who relocated to Dallas, Texas following his guilty plea, to report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons on June 6 to begin his sentence.