The board members who sued Angel Food Ministries last week said Sunday they want to ensure that the organization survives and continues selling discount groceries and feeding the hungry.

Their lawsuit claims the founders of AFM used the nonprofit for personal gain and asks a Georgia judge to bar them from the premises of the organization in Monroe, Ga.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Craig Atnip of Texas and David "Tony" Prather of Georgia asked the court to protect the ministry's assets and to keep Wesley "Joe" and Linda Wingo and their sons, Andy and Jonathan Wesley, away from AFM.

In response to the suit, AFM said Atnip and Prather are acting in self-interest with the desire to install themselves at the ministry's helm.

Atnip and Prather countered that claim in a joint statement Sunday.

"We seek no personal money in this lawsuit," they said.

Instead, the two board members want the Wingos to return to AFM funds they allegedly misappropriated -- funds the board of directors asked the Wingos to return in July 2008, Atnip and Prather said.

AFM sells groceries that it buys at a volume discount. People pay $30 for a box of food that retails for about $60 and can feed a family of four for a week. People can buy AFM groceries at nine sites in York County.

Orders and delivery of goods would not be disrupted because of the lawsuit, said Juda Engelmayer, a spokeman for the organization.

Volunteer Bev Crowl, who coordinates AFM orders in Brogue, said her main concern is that the food gets to the families who depend on it.

"That's my job - to get the food in and get it out," she said. "It's immaterial to me who's running it, as long as they run it legally, above board and get us what we need."

Several others who volunteer with AFM could not be reached or declined to comment.

Agents from the FBI and the IRS' criminal investigation division said they searched the offices of the ministry Feb. 11 but would not say what they were looking for.

AFM has said the government investigation is of an individual or individuals connected to AFM and not the ministry itself or churches and other groups around the country that use volunteer labor to process the grocery orders.

AFM on Saturday acknowledged a grand jury investigation into "alleged financial irregularities concerning certain individuals."

"The board of directors and Joseph Wingo as CEO has addressed these problems and will continue to accurately report the financial status of AFM as required by law," said a statement on AFM's Web site.

"These problems do not merit or authorize the suit that has been filed. In fact the two directors in question are trying to take advantage of the investigation in the hope that in the rush to judgment they can have the windfall benefit of all of the years of labor by the Wingos."

AFM said Atnip has worked for the ministry as its chief operating officer for six weeks but spent three of those out of the office.

Atnip said that's because he's been "answering questions to the FBI, IRS, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, as well as the federal grand jury for the Middle District of Georgia on matters dealing with the four Wingo family members."

AFM likened Prather to a prodigal son, to whom the Wingos loaned money when he was in need. Prather acknowledged the loan Sunday and said he's repaying it monthly.

The lawsuit says the Wingos enriched themselves by at least $2.7 million, including $600,000 the Wingos allegedly directed from AFM to the church they run - Emmanuel Praise Church in Monroe - as a "housing allowance."

The complaint alleges the Wingos spent more than $850,000 for personal goods using AFM credit cards.

The lawsuit also claims that Andy Wingo, who was the food buyer for AFM, took kickbacks as part of the transactions, and that other family members knew about it.

Andy Wingo is CEO of the for-profit wholesaler Good Hope Food Inc., according to the company's Web site. Good Hope Food used to procure groceries for AFM from food producers, Engelmayer said in an interview last year.

Good Hope Food was incorporated in 1996 by Andy's father, Joe Wingo, according to state records.

AFM has grown rapidly since its start in 1994 with 34 boxes of food on the Wingos' back porch. Last year, it distributed nearly 6 million boxes of food, and donated $5.1 million in benevolence money to the communities it serves.

A statement on AFM's Web site Saturday referred to a "media situation" and urged volunteers and people who have bought food to "hold off on judgment based on the media storm."

The Daily Record/Sunday News reported Jan. 25 that charity watchdogs and experts believe AFM's executive pay and insider loan practices raise the question of whether some of its earnings are being used for a charitable purpose.

AFM paid nearly $2.5 million in compensation in one year to the Wingo family. The next year, 2007, compensation for the family dropped closer to earlier years' levels, tax records indicate.

Family members also borrowed money from the nonprofit. At the end of 2007, the Wingos owed a balance of nearly $1.1 million on loans from AFM, according to tax records.

The compensation and loans were intended to reduce personal debt that the family incurred while building up the ministry in earlier years, Engelmayer has said.

Joe and Linda Wingo spoke in York at a Feb. 12 meeting of AFM volunteers from around Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. Several locals who attended the invitation-only gathering said they felt reassured about AFM's future and would continue working with the nonprofit to meet the food needs of the community.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

LOCALLY

Angel Food Ministries' distribution sites in York County, according to the charity's Web site:

Airville - Pine Grove Presbyterian Church, 862-3579

Dallastown - Christ Lutheran Church, 244-2605

Dover Township - Friendship Community Church, 779-0400 or 764-6178

East Manchester Township - St. Paul United Methodist Church, 266-2506

Hanover- Hanover Community Church, 451-4834

Hellam Township - Kreutz Creek Presbyterian Church, 840-0955

Shrewsbury - Southern Community Services, 227-0048

Spry - Otterbein United Methodist Church, 741-1429

York City - Fourth United Methodist Church, 854-6984 or 854-6731

ON THE WEB

  • Angel Food Ministries, www.angelfoodministries.com

  • Good Hope Food Co., www.goodhopefoods.com