How did hundreds of thousands of dollars that was supposed to be feeding needy children wind up in the pocket of a La Vergne woman?
On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office charged Lashane Hayes with stealing money from the state's child care food program.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates has been digging through records in this case for weeks -- and now we reveal how this alleged scheme was pulled off.
A grassy embankment on Dickerson Pike near Briley Parkway is just that, a big, grassy embankment.
Yet, it is supposed to be a home-based day care that's feeding a dozen low-income kids a day, according to a form turned into the state.
And the address isn't the only thing wrong.
The phone number listed for the caregiver is wrong -- and we couldn't find anyone with that name.
So who turned this in to DHS?
The same woman who signed the bottom of the application
Lashane Hayes, the director of the non-profit food program All About Giving now faces federal conspiracy and fraud charges for allegedly submitting fake reimbursement claims to the state for child care providers and children that didn't exist.
"That's just not acceptable -- not acceptable," said state Sen. Jim Tracy, after learning of what we'd uncovered.
And it wasn't just the grassy embankment.
We found Lashane Hayes told the state there were home day cares at other addresses that didn't exist and on streets that didn't exist, all part of her alleged scheme to defraud the government out of what sources tell NewsChannel 5 could be close to a million dollars.
"This kind of thing has got to stop. This is why people are upset with the government today," Tracy added.
The Shelbyville Republican was one of several state lawmakers earlier this year who was highly critical of DHS after state auditors found significant misspending by at least three other similar food agencies.
"That's exactly what I said, 'Here we go again!'" exclaimed the lawmaker.
DHS relies on these non-profits to reimburse child care providers for feeding healthy meals to low-income kids.
But what Hayes did through All About Giving, prosecutors say, was fraud.
In July alone, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Hayes received more than a quarter of a million dollars, after she claimed to be reimbursing 75 day care providers.
Yet, in emails we obtained from DHS, state auditors wrote there were only records for 32 of those homes, half that number.
We got the names and addresses Hayes claimed were child care providers -- and what we found in those records raise a lot of questions.
One thing that surprised us was how many people we discovered were family members of Hayes.
We found her children, nieces and nephews and an assortment of cousins, each of them supposedly taking care of as many as a dozen kids a day in their homes.
Hayes, we found, also hired her husband and son to work for All About Giving while that same son and two nephews served on the group's board of directors.
Kristen Peters told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "It's just gotten out of hand!"
Peters who does care for kids in her home said she signed up for the All About Giving program earlier this year.
"Pretty soon after I started, there were all sorts of red flags," she recalled.
Peters says she wasn't paid for two months and no one from All About Giving, she explained, ever came to make sure she was keeping the extensive records the state requires.
Then, she said, a federal investigator with the USDA knocked on her door.
"And I said, 'Could you please tell me what this is about?' And that's when he advised me, 'That we're investigating the All About Giving food program,'" Peters recounted.
Senator Tracy said he was shocked and disappointed by what we found.
"Millions of dollars go through this program. It's designed to help children. It's not getting to these children. It's going into people's pockets," he said.
Tracy pushed legislation through last year that he hoped would help stop this sort of fraud in DHS' food program.
We also talked with Sen. Steve Dickerson who had tough questions for the DHS Commissioner at a hearing last session.
Both men tell NewsChannel 5 Investigates that it looks like may be time for another hearing.
If Lashane Hayes is convicted, she could get up to 20 years in prison. She also could be ordered to pay back everything she's accused of taking illegally. We did reach out to Hayes, but she chose not to comment.
Assistant Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services Stephanie Jarnagin released the following statement:
“DHS has been working in partnership with the USDA OIG and the US Attorney for several months on this case. While most sponsors are properly administering the programs, we fully expect to catch more bad actors given some of the increased rigor we have included in the oversight of the program.”