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School district chef accused of embezzlement

A 55-year-old man who has earned a multitude of awards and praise for working to make California students' meals healthier was accused of taking $65,000 from the Los Angeles Unified School District and putting it into his own private consulting firm. He appeared in court on Aug. 8 and pleaded not guilty to a total of 15 felony counts that included misappropriation of funds and embezzlement.

The court documents accused the man of misappropriating the funds between 2010 and 2014. The amounts allegedly ranged from $5,000 to $15,000. He was also accused of forging an application to become a vendor for the district but did not disclose that he had outside financial interests. He posted $220,000 bail and was scheduled to return to court in October. He faces a maximum 13 years in prison if he is convicted.

The man became deputy director of food services for the district in 2008. Before that, he had worked as a chef. He is known to be a pioneer for improving school nutrition by providing school lunches that utilized produce and meats from local purveyors. Additionally, he was responsible for providing a higher variety of meals for school children, including vegetarian curries and quinoa salads instead of corn dogs and chicken nuggets.

When people are accused of misappropriating funds, they could face serious penalties if a conviction is able to be obtained. Embezzlement is what is known as a specific intent crime, and a defense attorney could assert that the defendant did not intend to deprive the owner of its property.

Source: L.A. Times, "Food guru who brought healthier meals to L.A. schools charged with mishandling district funds", James Queally, Aug. 8, 2017

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