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Head Of Food Program Removed From Job After Discovery Of Missing Money

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Posted at 5:26 PM, Aug 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-08 04:36:14-04

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - The head of a Clarksville-based food program that helps feed low income children across Tennessee has been removed from her job after thousands of dollars in federal money turned up missing.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained a copy of the letter that was sent to Patsy Simpson by the board of the Cherry Tree Food Program after board members said they discovered what they called "questionable spending" and "unauthorized transfers" from the agency's bank accounts.

Simpson ran the Cherry Tree Food Program out of her Trenton Road house in Clarksville for many years. The agency has operated as a non-profit and got nearly $3 million in federal funds last year from DHS to distribute to child care and adult day care centers to feed low income participants.

According to the letter the Cherry Tree board sent to Simpson last month, they discovered nearly $14,000 had been "misappropriated" from the organization's bank account between late April and late June.

The Board went on to notify Simpson that they were immediately cutting off her access to all Cherry Tree accounts and they asked her to provide all records and receipts that would explain where the money went. NewsChannel 5 Investigates was told she has not done that yet.

Now this has not been the first time Cherry Tree's finances under Simpson's leadership have been called into question. NewsChannel 5 Investigates has learned that DHS ordered Cherry Tree Food to repay $300,000 that could not be properly accounted for. There's no word yet on exactly where that money wound up.

But, this all comes just a month after DHS came under fire after the state Comptroller's Office found hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable reimbursements to ABC Nutrition Services which did the same sort of work as Cherry Tree. The three women who ran ABC Nutrition out of a home in west Tennessee have now been facing theft charges in that case.

The comptroller's office primarily blamed what happened at ABC Nutrition on a lack of oversight by DHS.

And, soon after, the director of the DHS food program abruptly resigned.

Wednesday night DHS said it can't provide us with any information about past problems with Cherry Tree because they said they were conducting their regular review of the agency.

We did reach out to Patsy Simpson for comment, but she never got back to us.

So what happens to all of the day care centers who depend on the money from Cherry Tree to feed their kids?

NewsChannel 5 Investigates has been told that Cherry Tree has been continuing to operate as it has with an interim director in place. The board sent us a statement late this afternoon which said they were finishing up their own internal investigation and have been working to put measures in place that will ensure accurate and proper accounting of Cherry Tree's finances in the future.