In a cash-strapped Chicago suburb, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, a public school food services director engaged in a slow-motion heist of some $1.5 million worth of chicken wings, authorities said.
Vera Liddell, 66, a former employee at Harvey School District 152, faces charges of financial crimes and theft exceeding $1 million.
Authorities allege that from July 2020 through February 2022, Liddell is accused of placing hundreds of unauthorized orders for food that never made it to schoolchildren, including 11,000 cases of chicken wings, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
“The massive fraud began at the height of COVID during a time when students were not allowed to be physically present in school,” according to court documents obtained by Inside Edition Digital reads. “Even though the children were learning remotely, the school district continued to provide meals for the students that their families could pick up.”
Prosecutors say that Liddell’s unauthorized purchases bore her signature and were independent of legitimate orders made by the school district. When the defendant submitted a fraudulent order, prosecutors allege that Gordon Food Service delivered the food and billed the school district. The district, in turn, paid the bills.
Prosecutors added that the school district does not serve chicken wings to students because the popular snack contains bones.
The case came to light during an audit in January 2022 that showed the school had blown past its yearly budget by $300,000 with several months of classes still to go.
Prosecutors said that surveillance footage showed Liddell arrive at Gordon Food Service to pick up the fraudulent food orders and leave with them in a cargo van that belonged to the school district. It is unclear where the wings ended up.
According to court records obtained by Windy City-based independent TV station WGN, Gordon Food Service employees who were interviewed by law enforcement said they were all familiar with the defendant “due to the massive amount of chicken wings she would purchase.”
Her next court appearance is currently slated for Feb. 22, 2023. She is currently being represented by the officer of the public defender and has not entered a plea in the case.
“The district cannot comment at this time because of an ongoing investigation,” District 152 Interim Superintendent Lela Bridges said in a statement. “However, we are fully cooperating with the authorities regarding this matter.”
According to WGN, the five-school district has a total enrollment of 1,600 students, more than 80% of who qualifies as “low income.”
[image via Cook County Jail]
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