Former Harvey school worker accused of embezzling $1.5 million through chicken wing orders
HARVEY, Ill. (CBS) -- A south suburban school worker stood accused Monday night in a bizarre scheme involving more than $1 million worth of stolen chicken wings.
Vera Liddell is the former director of food services at Harvey School District 152 in south suburban Harvey.
The Cook County State's Attorney's office alleged Liddell launched an embezzlement scheme that resulted in the theft of more than $1.5 million in taxpayer money.
The scheme began during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools were closed on state order and replaced by virtual learning. Despite the fact that children were learning remotely, the school district was still providing meals for pickup, according to the State's Attorney's office.
From July 2020 until February 2022, Liddell placed hundreds of unauthorized orders for food items – including 11,000 cases of chicken wings – through school district vendor Gordon Food Service, prosecutors said.
These purchases were made separately from the legitimate orders made by the school district, prosecutors said.
Gordon Food Service believed all the purchases were authorized and billed the district for everything, prosecutors said. The district paid the full bills – including for the unauthorized purchases.
But in January 2022, the district business manager conducted a routine mid-year audit, and discovered the food service department was more than $300,000 over its annual budget with the school year only about half over, prosecutors said.
A closer review uncovered individual invoices signed by Liddell for absurd quantities of chicken wings, prosecutors said.
Surveillance video showed that Liddell showed up at Gordon Food Service to pick up the food orders and would leave with it in a district cargo van. But the food was never brought to the school or the students, prosecutors said.
The school district does not even serve chicken wings to students, as they contain bones, prosecutors said.
District 152 Interim Supt. Lela Bridges issued a statement late Monday: "The district cannot comment at this time because of an ongoing investigation. However, we are fully cooperating with the authorities regarding this matter."
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