New Jersey state Comptroller Matthew Boxer announced on Wednesday that 109 public employees, spouses and family members will be prosecuted on fraud charges after a state investigation (PDF) found they lied about their incomes to qualify for a free school lunch program, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported.
"What we learned in this investigation is that because of the way this program is structured, there is minimal oversight, resulting in people frequently lying on program applications about income amounts," Boxer told the Star-Ledger. "In short, the free lunch program has been compromised by widespread fraud."
Boxer did not identify the employees accused in the report, but mentioned that 40 of them worked for school districts, including six board members. The 109 cheaters hid a combined $13 million in underreported income to claim their children qualified for participation in the National School Lunch Program, which offers free or discounted breakfasts and lunches for children from lower-income families.
The state report focused on 15 school districts, but did not include the Elizabeth public school district, where school board president Marie L. Munn was revealed to have left her husband's income out while registering her children for the program, an error she later blamed to "misunderstandings and financial complications." Munn resigned and was later indicted, and another school board member and two attorneys for the board were accused of covering up fake applications for the program.
"I am deeply disturbed by the findings and fully expect the Department of Agriculture and school districts to implement the reform recommendations to ensure this program is used only by those who truly need it," state assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D) told the Associated Press. "I also expect those guilty of fraud to be prosecuted to the fullest extent."
[Image: "Elementary Pupils Enjoying Healthy Lunch In Cafeteria" via Shutterstock]