12 public employees, including a school board member, in Paterson filled out lunch applications with false income information, according to a report issued by the New Jersey State Comptroller’s Office.
“Dozens of public employees appear to have lied about their income in order to take advantage of a school program designed to help families in need,” says Matthew Boxer, the state’s comptroller.
Mr Boxer’s office began the investigation after seeing news stories that highlighted problematic lunch applications submitted by public employees for the National School Lunch Program, a scheme that provides children from low-income homes with free or reduced lunch in the public school systems, in Elizabeth. Mr Boxer wanted to see if the same problem existed in other school districts around the state, and as the results show, it did.
Mr Boxer’s office has yet to release the names of the individuals involved in defrauding the lunch program. Of the 9 Paterson Board of Education members, only three of them have children who attend the public school system: Alex Mendez, Kenneth Simmons, and Wendy Guzman.
It is not just board members, some teachers also defrauded the lunch program: “A Paterson school teacher underreported her income by an average of approximately $68,600 for each year during the three-year period reviewed. During her interview with OSC [Office of State Comptroller], she admitted to reporting the “wrong amount” on the applications and said she neglected to include income from her second job or from her overtime earnings,” reads the report.
A nurse, who works for the city’s school district, underreported her income, and when authorities contacted her, she said she thought the district was extending a courtesy because she worked for the district.
Many of these nurses, teachers, and school officials know that only three percent of lunch applications are reviewed, at any given year. It is from this realization that they assumed they can get away with providing false information when filling out lunch forms.
Information of all 12 individual fraudsters has been sent to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice for prosecution.