School Worker Charged With Stealing $1.5M Worth of Chicken Wings From Impoverished District
Where did 11,000 cases of chicken wings go?
An Illinois public school employee has been charged with stealing more than $1.5 million worth of chicken wings from a financially strapped school district, authorities say. Vera Liddell, 66, the former director of food services at Harvey School District 152, has been charged with two felonies, including continuing financial crimes enterprise and theft exceeding $1 million. She was arrested on Thursday and released on bond, the Washington Post reported. Read on to find out more about the case.
More Than a Million Dollars of Poultry, Paid For By Taxpayers
The theft was first discovered when the school district, south of Chicago, discovered it was $300,000 over its annual food budget midway through the year, with months of classes still ahead, prosecutors said. When officials investigated, they found invoices for thousands of chicken wings — an item that had never been served to students (the bones were too dangerous).
The findings sparked an investigation by the Office of the Cook County State's Attorney, which alleges that the chicken wings were at the center of an embezzlement scheme — one that cost taxpayers more than $1.5 million, according to court records.
Grift Began During Pandemic, Prosecutors Say
Liddell, 66, was arrested on Thursday and released after posting 10 percent of her $150,000 bond, officials said. The public defender's office which is representing Liddell had not commented, the Post reported. Prosecutors say the fraud began in July 2020, when the COVID pandemic had closed most schools. Although the Harvey school district's 2,200 students were engaged in remote learning, food services workers were still preparing meals that could be picked up, court documents say.
Hundreds of Unauthorized Orders
Liddell began placing "hundreds of unauthorized orders for food items, primarily chicken wings," the documents say. The chicken wing orders, which allegedly continued through February 2022, were made at Gordon Food Service, the school district's main food supplier. Liddell was caught on surveillance video picking up the cases of chicken wings in a van belonging to the school district, investigators say.
Where Did 11,000 Cases of Chicken Wings Go?
The unusual orders were discovered last February, when the school district did an overarching financial audit, discovering that the food department was hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget. "Upon closer review, [the business manager] discovered individual invoices signed by Liddell for massive quantities of chicken wings, an item that was never served to students," prosecutors said. It's unclear where the 11,000 cases of chicken wings went. Liddell has not entered a plea and is due to return to court on Feb. 22, the Post reported.
District Hasn't Commented
The school district's interim superintendent, Lela Bridges, told Law & Crime that the district "cannot comment at this time because of an ongoing investigation" and is "fully cooperating with the authorities regarding this matter." According to various media outlets, employees of Gordon Food Service told police they were familiar with Liddell "due to the massive amount of chicken wings she would purchase."