Missouri nonprofit director stole millions from program to feed needy kids, indictment alleges

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The executive director of a Missouri nonprofit stole millions of dollars from a program intended to provide meals for low-income children, according to a federal indictment announced Thursday.

Connie Bobo, 44, of St. Charles, Missouri, was indicted on three counts of wire fraud, three counts of aggravated identity theft and two counts of obstruction of an official proceeding.

Bobo is executive director of New Heights Community Resource Center in the St. Louis suburb of Bridgeton. The nonprofit accepted funding provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the state to feed low-income school-aged children after school and during the summer, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services paid out about $11 million from February 2019 to March 2022, after Bobo submitted reimbursement claims stating that the organization served nearly 6 million meals. The indictment said New Heights purchased only enough food and milk to serve less than 3 million meals.

Instead, according to the indictment, Bobo used the money to buy a home worth nearly $1 million, bought homes for relatives and used $2.2 million of the money on a commercial real estate investment. She also gave nearly $1.4 million to a romantic partner who spent $211,907 of the funds on a Mercedes-Benz, the indictment stated.

Bobo could face more than 20 years in prison if convicted, and prosecutors are seeking reimbursement, including forfeiture of the homes and the SUV.

A message left on Bobo's cellphone on Thursday wasn't immediately returned. Calls to New Heights were met with a message saying the calls can't be completed. Bobo does not yet have an attorney, according to federal court records.

“This indictment shows that we will aggressively pursue those who defraud a program intended to feed needy children, and those who exploited loopholes created by a global pandemic,” U.S. Attorney Sayler A. Fleming said in a statement.

In 2022, federal prosecutors in Minnesota charged nearly 50 people in connection with a scheme to steal more than $250 million from a federal program designed to provide meals to low-income children in Minnesota. Ten additional people were charged in that scheme in March.