Christy Walker, left, and Tyrone Walker of Newberry were arrested Monday and charged with scheme to defraud, conspiracy to commit grand theft and grand theft of more than $100,000.00
LAKELAND | A married couple from Newberry were arrested late Monday on charges they worked with a Lakeland-based businessman to steal $1.5 million from the state prison system over four years.
Tyrone Walker, 54, and Christy Walker, 49, are charged with scheme to defraud; conspiracy to commit grand theft; and grand theft of more than $100,000, courts records show.
After a statewide Florida Department of Law Enforcement warrant was issued for them, the Walkers worked through their attorney to surrender to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said a spokesperson at the Department of Financial Services’ Office of Fiscal Integrity.
Thomas J. Tomblin Jr., 63, who worked out of a national food company’s Lakeland office but lives in Ocoee, picked the Walkers’ company, M&S Foods, to provide meat to Florida’s prisoners, for which the Walkers paid him more than $700,000 in kickbacks, Tomblin’s arrest affidavit said.
“To steal from the state of Florida is to steal from every hardworking taxpayer in this state, and such acts will not be tolerated,” state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said in a news release from the Department of Financial Services.
The Florida Department of Corrections signed a contract on Oct. 23, 2008, with US Foods, which is based in Rosemont, Ill., to have the company handle its food vendor system. The contract names Tomblin as the project manager.
At the time the contract was signed, Tomblin was working at US Foods out of an office at 330 N. Ingraham Ave. in Lakeland, the affidavit said. A project manager identifies and vets potential vendors and is the point of contact between the company and the customer.
Tomblin stopped working for US Foods in August 2012, said Michelle Calcagni, senior director of corporate communications for US Foods.
Tomblin had contracted the Walkers’ business, M&S Foods of Newberry, to provide meat to the prisoners, but about a week later, officials at state prisons started complaining to the Florida Department of Corrections about the “wholesomeness of the products,” the affidavit said.
The state Department of Corrections’ Inspector General’s Office did not receive a formal complaint until almost two years later — on May 12, 2010, the affidavit said.
On March 3, 2011, the Office of Fiscal Integrity started investigating, said Ted Dudley Jr., supervisor of investigations with that agency. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement joined the investigation on July 8, 2011.
Dudley said Tomblin and the Walkers had been in the food-supply business for years and had become friends who vacationed together.
Between August 2008 and November 2012, Dudley said, Tyrone Walker paid Tomblin $723,157 in payoffs to pick M&S Foods and protect the company. As companies bid for the contract with US Foods, Tomblin ranked other vendors as unsatisfactory even if their bids were less than M&S Foods’ bid, the affidavit said.
In August 2008, the Department of Corrections started changing its food-service operation to a prime- vendor system, replacing a system in which two companies, Trinity and Aramark, made, purchased and cooked the food, Dudley said.
In the Walkers’ application to US Foods, they said M&S Foods was a food manufacturer, but Dudley said investigators found M&S Foods didn’t produce any of the meat it was contractually obligated to process.
On Nov. 11, 2008, M&S Foods contracted with Southeastern Protein Purveyors, a company based in Savannah, Ga., to sell meat to Florida’s prisons, Dudley said. Southeastern Protein Purveyors does business with Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises, which is based in Raiford.
Dudley said that although Walker claimed M&S Food was manufacturing the meat, he used a program at Florida State Prison in Raiford that teaches inmates employable skills, including butchering and processing meat.
The prisoner-processed meat packed in M&S Foods boxes bearing the M&S Foods logo was then delivered back to inmates throughout Florida’s prisons, Dudley said.
In August 2008, Walker charged .01 cents per pound as a brokerage fee, but a year later, his brokerage fee was .06 cents per pound, Dudley said.
In the affidavit, Jay Javetz and Steve Saterbo, the owners of the Southeastern Protein Purveyors, told investigators Walker had no expenses because their company covered all of the shipping and equipment costs.
Javetz and Saterbo told investigators that they talked about trying to cut out the Walkers as a middleman, but they were afraid it might void their contract and Tyrone Walker had told them US Foods would not buy their meat if they did that, the affidavit said.
The trio was able to steal the $1.5 million through the brokerage fee, using inmate labor to lower costs and having Tomblin cover up the scheme, Dudley said.
The Walkers and Tomblin all are being held at the Polk County Jail with bails of $35,000.
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