A school food supervisor in Illinois is accused of stealing $1.5 million worth of food, mostly chicken wings, from the district where she was employed.
Officials say she started her embezzlement scheme during the pandemic, ordering food that never made it to the schools to feed the children she was supposed to service with taxpayer money.
An auditor saw a large number of wings, an item prohibited by the district to give to children because they have bones, on the ordering list. Court records state that prosecutors accused Harvey School District 152 Director of Food Services, Vera Liddell, of fraud after it was discovered she ordered more than 11,000 cases of chicken wings from Gordon Food Service for her own enterprise, according to NBC 5 Chicago.
Using the district’s account, the woman ordered the grub from the school district’s food provider and picked it up in a school-owned cargo van, WGN 9 reports.
Surveillance footage captured the woman arriving at the food provider’s facility to get the food, signing in with an electronic keypad to show she was in receipt of the chicken wings and then charging the district.
No one knows what she did with the food.
According to a proffer filed in Cook County Circuit Court, Liddell has been charged with felony continuing financial crimes enterprise and theft exceeding $1 million, also a felony.
Prosecutors say her scam lasted for 19 months until January 2022 when a district’s business manager discovered in a mid-year audit the district was $300,000 over its yearly food service budget halfway through the calendar year.
“She discovered individual invoices signed by Liddell for massive quantities of chicken wings, an item that was never served to students because they contain bones,” a representative from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said.
From July 2020 to February 2022, she placed hundreds of unauthorized orders for food items, billing the district. Liddell still made orders for the district as required by the job, being careful never to mix the orders up.
The school district paid the bills in full, CBS News states.
“The massive fraud began at the height of COVID during a time when students were not allowed to be physically present in school. Even though the children were learning remotely, the school district continued to provide meals for the students that their families could pick up,” a proffer presented at Liddell’s bond hearing read. “The food was never brought to the school or provided to the students.”
The prosecution believes the 66-year-old skipped out on feeding 1,280 of the 1,600 children attending the five schools in the district who qualify as “low-income.”
Liddell is currently in custody at the Cook County Jail with a $150,000 bond.
On Monday, Jan. 30, the District 152 Interim Supt. Lela Bridges issued a statement, “The district cannot comment at this time because of an ongoing investigation. However, we are fully cooperating with the authorities regarding this matter.”