Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced that former Elizabeth Board of Education member Juan Donoso, Board Attorney Kirk Nelson, and outside board counsel Frank Capece were charged today with covering up a false application filed by Donoso’s wife for the federally funded free lunch program.
The wife, Olga Oviedo-Arevalo, was charged with filing several false applications. The defendants were charged as a result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police.
According to Chiesa, Oviedo-Arevalo allegedly filed false applications for the district’s federally funded free or reduced lunch program for her son for three school years, 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11, listing only income of $13,000 ($250 per week) for herself and no income for Donoso, when in fact they had a household income of more than $50,000 for each of those years. As a result of those applications, the son allegedly received approximately $1,700 in free lunches. In addition, Oviedo-Arevalo allegedly filed a false application for the 2011-2012 school year for her son and daughter that listed only a fraction of the income Donoso earned. This is the application that was the subject of the alleged cover-up.
In response to Donoso and after a subpoena was served upon the Board of Education in August 2011 for all school lunch applications filed from 2006 through 2011, Capece and Nelson allegedly arranged for the Donoso/Oviedo-Arevalo 2011-2012 application to be pulled from the district’s official records. As a result, the application was not turned over to the Division of Criminal Justice when the Board of Education responded to the subpoena. Afterward, Capece and Nelson allegedly arranged for the application to be put back into district files. The couple’s children were also switched from free to paid status in the computer system for the National School Lunch Program.
“I don’t know which is more disturbing, a school board member and his wife allegedly stealing from a school lunch program for disadvantaged students, or two attorneys allegedly tampering with the records of the public body that they serve to thwart a criminal investigation,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “Corruption is never to be taken lightly – not at any level – and we intend to make perfectly plain that the defendants’ alleged conduct is nothing short of criminal.”
“At Donoso’s behest, these two attorneys, who had a duty to uphold the law and honestly serve the Board of Education, allegedly engaged in a cover-up to shield Donoso and his wife and hinder the criminal investigation we were conducting,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We have zero tolerance for corrupt insiders who think they play by a different set of rules.”
Donoso, 42, and Oviedo-Arevalo, 37, of Elizabeth, were each charged today by complaint-summons with third-degree theft by deception, third-degree tampering with public records and fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records.
Capece, 62, of Cranford, and Nelson, 46, of Roselle, were each charged with third-degree tampering with public records, fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records, and fourth-degree hindering apprehension. Nelson was charged by complaint-summons. Capece was charged by complaint-warrant and was arrested at his law office to be processed on the charges. His bail was set at $7,500. Capece was arrested after State Police detectives initially attempted to approach and advise Capece of the service of a complaint-summons at his residence. Capece refused to answer his front door and yelled at the officers from a second-story window to get off his lawn. He told the officers to meet him at his law office at 9 a.m., but he did not go to the office at that time.
Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000, while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because they are indictable offenses, the charges will be presented to a state grand jury for potential indictment.