School Worker Allegedly Embezzled $1.5 Million In Chicken Wing Scheme

There may have been times during the pandemic when the prices of certain goods felt downright criminal amid the throes of food inflation. Chicken wings, for example, spent time in the news thanks to those prices, which skyrocketed during the pandemic before dropping substantially last year. Market Realist points out that wing prices trended upward for a variety of reasons. The COVID pandemic led to food delivery surges, and chicken wings were one of the most popular items. Add to that factors like the 2021 Texas power crisis and its effect on chicken-raising facilities as well as pandemic-related closures are major chicken meat processing operations, and it's easy to see why demand outstripped supply.

But it's one thing for market forces to seemingly conspire against you in a perfect storm of undesirable circumstances. It's quite another if someone attempts to commit the perfect crime by inventing demand for chicken wings that never should have been bought. Recently, a Chicago area school district employee was accused of making off with a haul of wings between July 2020 and February 2022 in an embezzlement scheme, per CBS News.

An audacious heist

Vera Liddell, who served as director of food services at Harvey School District 152, which is in the south suburbs of Chicago, is alleged to have embezzled $1.5 million worth of food items, much of it chicken wings, reports CBS News. Liddell, it is claimed, placed orders through Gordon Food Service that never made it to district schools, including 11,000 cases of chicken wings. The fraudulent orders were mixed with legitimate orders and went unnoticed by the district and the provider until a routine audit revealed a budget overrun of $300,000.

The alleged crime is especially audacious given that it occurred, in part, in the thick of the pandemic when schools were closed for remote learning. As a result, they were making meals intended to be picked up for the children. What's more, the school district does not, as a policy, even serve chicken wings to students as they come bone-in.

This incident adds to a history of scandals for the district. In 2013, controversy ensued because the president of Harvey School District 152 at the time, Janet Rogers, had prior convictions for fraud and felony theft, according to the Chicago Sun-Times (via PressReader). In 2015, then-superintendent Denean Adams sued after she was allegedly threatened for trying to investigate suspicious expenses, such as $500,000 paid to a contractor for unclear reasons (via Fox 32 Chicago). Her suit claimed Harvey School District had nurtured a culture of "cronyism and public corruption."