AG’s Office charges six with stealing more than $10K from school lunch program

TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman today announced that his office charged six women, all public employees, with stealing a total of more than $10,000 from the federally funded free and reduced-price school lunch program by filing false applications for their children. 

The charges evolved out of investigations by the Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police, stemming from referrals by the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller, according to a release by the AG’s Office. 

The Office of the State Comptroller referred numerous potential cases to the Division of Criminal Justice involving public employees or their families who allegedly under-reported their household income in order to fraudulently qualify their children for free or reduced-price lunches.  These six defendants represent the first round of prosecutions resulting from the referrals and the ongoing investigative efforts of the Division of Criminal Justice and State Police, Hoffman said.

The Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau charged each of the six women with third-degree theft by deception.  That charge carries a potential sentence of three to five years in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $15,000 upon conviction.

“Fraud in public assistance programs costs taxpayers many millions of dollars each year,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman.  “It’s reprehensible that public employees – whose own salaries are paid by taxpayers – would lie about their income in order to steal tax dollars and exploit a program intended to provide nutritious meals to disadvantaged children.”

“We will continue to work closely with the Office of the State Comptroller, the New Jersey State Police and other partners to eliminate abuse in public assistance programs,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice.  “We expect to charge additional defendants in our ongoing investigations into fraud in the free school lunch program.  These criminal charges should deter anyone who might consider falsely applying for the program.”

The Attorney General’s Office today charged the following six women by complaint-summons with third-degree theft by deception:

  1. Nona Daily, 45, of Pennsauken, a teacher’s aide in the Camden School District, allegedly filed false applications for five school years beginning with 2009-2010 and continuing through the current school year, which resulted in her two children receiving $4,016 in free breakfasts and lunches to which they were not entitled.  Daily reported only her income in the applications, failing to report that her husband, who is a member of the household, earned between $63,000 and $73,000 in each of those years as an employee of New Jersey Transit.  Daily earned between $18,000 and $22,000 annually.
  1. Jessica Davila, 42, of Newark, a U.S. Postal Service clerk, allegedly filed false applications for six school years beginning with 2008-2009 and continuing through the current school year, which resulted in her two children receiving $1,870 worth of free lunches or discounts on reduced-price lunches to which they were not entitled.  Davila reported household income for those years ranging from $16,000 to $39,000, when in fact her income combined with the income of the children’s father, who lives with them, ranged from $128,000 to nearly $150,000.  She did not report any of his income on the applications.
  1.  Tiajuana McShan, 40, of Millville, a cottage training supervisor at the Woodbine Developmental Center, allegedly filed false applications for three school years beginning with 2011-2012 and continuing through the current school year, which resulted in her three children receiving $1,722 worth of discounts on reduced-price lunches to which they were not entitled.  She reported annual income ranging from $26,000 to $44,000 for those years, but her real income ranged from $45,000 to nearly $75,000.
  1. Helen Allen, 45, of Millville, a senior food service handler at the Woodbine Developmental Center, allegedly filed false applications for four school years beginning with 2010-2011 and continuing through the current school year, which resulted in her two children receiving $1,218 worth of free lunches or discounts on reduced-price lunches to which they were not entitled.  Allen under-reported her own income and failed to report the income of her boyfriend, who is the father of one of the children and was a member of the household.  Their combined incomes greatly exceeded the household income limit for the program, exceeding $100,000 for at least two of the years in question.
  1. Janet Hubert, 53, of Hillside, a family service worker with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, allegedly filed false applications for six school years beginning with 2008-2009 and continuing through the current school year, which resulted in her three children receiving $862 worth of discounts on reduced-price lunches to which they were not entitled.  Hubert earned between $83,000 and $94,000 annually during those years, but reported less than half of her income.  She also did not report her husband’s income.  Together they earned between $95,000 and $115,000 in household income during those years.
  1. Theresa Gunter, 34, of Browns Mills, a nurse at Buttonwood Hospital (now a private hospital but formerly run by Burlington County), allegedly filed a false application for the 2009-2010 school year that resulted in her two children receiving $616 worth of discounts on reduced-price lunches to which they were not entitled.  Gunter reported that she earned just over $30,000 annually, when in fact she earned nearly $49,000.

The complaints are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because the charges are indictable offenses, they will be presented to a grand jury for potential indictment.

The cases are assigned for prosecution to Deputy Attorneys General Valerie R. Butler, Peter W. Lee, Cambridge Ryan, Veronica Allende and Jonathan Gilmore, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Anthony Picione, Chief of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.  They were investigated by the following detectives: Detectives Patrick Squitieri, Laura Wheeler, Euriel Thwaites and Martin Halligan of the New Jersey State Police; and Detectives Thomas Page and Sherri Stevens of the Division of Criminal Justice.  Acting Attorney General Hoffman thanked the Office of the State Comptroller for its referrals and valuable assistance in the investigations.

The National School Lunch Program is a state-administered program funded by both the United States and New Jersey Departments of Agriculture.  Most, but not all, of the monies are provided by the federal government to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and then distributed to the local school districts.  The local school districts are responsible for providing the applications to the parents of the students in New Jersey public schools.  The local school districts apply federal guidelines and either approve or disapprove households for participation in the program.  The local school districts then report the numbers of meals provided either free or at a reduced rate to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Division of Food and Nutrition. 

The program application is very specific, as it requires the applicant to disclose all sources of income and the total number of residents in the household.  In addition, the form contains a paragraph stating that an adult household member must sign and certify the following information: “I certify (promise) that all information on this application is true and that all income is reported.  I understand that the school will get Federal Funds based upon the information I give.  I understand that school officials may verify (check) the information.  I understand that if I purposely give false information, my children may lose meal benefits, and I may be prosecuted.”