Woman spends tax dollars on wedding supplies, now focus of criminal probe

- A criminal investigation is underway involving a woman suspected of using tax dollars to help pay for her wedding.

The FOX 5 I-Team broke the story earlier this month involving April Smith, the founder of a non-profit in Barnesville.

The state of Georgia gave April Smith a lot of money to feed hungry children as part of a federally-funded summer food program. A state agency, Bright from the Start, works to make sure kids who are out of school still get at least one good meal each day.

The state partners with non-profits in 153 Georgia counties. One of them -- AD Smith Community Service in Barnesville, founder April Smith.

Each year she and other organizations received the standard warnings to only use those tax dollars for the children. Instead, Smith's accused of mishandling more than $140,000 and now admits owing even more.

The state says they can't get Smith to provide any answers or any refunds.

"Not one single dollar," stressed a frustrated Falita Flowers, director of nutrition services for Bright From the Start.
"Not one response to our request. So at this point we have no choice but to refer the matter to the Attorney General."

"Does that mean your office feels a crime's been committed?" I asked.

"Absolutely."

Troubles surfaced last summer when some of Smith's employees complained they weren't getting paid. Auditors took a deep look at the non-profit's bank account set up to handle that summer food money and discovered some major concerns.

According to that audit, more than $140,000 is unaccounted for or unjustified, including money spent with the Atlanta Falcons and David's Bridal in Atlanta where one of her bridesmaids said Smith bought her wedding dress.

Last year, April Smith got married in a lavish ceremony they're still talking about today.

"Look at this facility Randy," gestured longtime resident Robert Devane as we sat in the new Barnesville park. "It held a beautiful wedding."

Devane broke the story about financial problems with the non-profit through the on-line newspaper the Barnesville Dispatch.

But even he didn't know about the wedding connection. Ms. Smith arriving by horse-drawn carriage, walking on a red carpet with 27 wedding cakes and local dignitaries in attendance.

"What did you think when you saw those pictures?" I asked Devane.

"Shocked," he replied. "Lot of people were shocked. I couldn't believe it."

Especially because April Smith, now April Smith-Scott, owes a lot of people a lot of money. According to court records, $26,353 in back rent for her Barnesville home. According to her recently filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition, $22,120.54 to the Thomaston Milk Company that provided milk for the summer food program.

That's not all. There's $22,169.96 to Ingles, $15,839.20 to Global Foods, even $1,505.06 to the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank.

Total amount April and her husband admit owing creditors: $131,062.44. And that does not include what the state says she owes you.

"I hear very, very little good about the situation," Devane admitted.

April Smith-Scott continues to ignore the FOX 5 I-Team's requests for comment. She was not in the office when we stopped by a Griffin church where she runs a food pantry.

"Do you think taxpayers will ever see the money again?" I asked Devane.

"No. No. It's gone," he complained. Then he made this prediction: "Three things are going to happen. One, she's going to be forgiven. Number 2, she's going to have to pay it back. Or Number 3: she's going to have to get suited up for an outfit. With stripes."

If criminal charges are filed, they have to wait until after July 1. That's the final deadline for April Smith-Scott if she does plan to pay back all that money or prove it really was spent for its original purpose -- needy children.

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