Monday, March 29, 2010

East Lyme, Connecticut schools audit lunch program: Probe comes after former director charged with embezzling $335,000

The school board's auditing company, RSM McGladrey, is conducting an audit of the school lunch program following the alleged embezzlement of $334,778 by the former director of dining services. The company that provides school lunches in East Lyme, Chartwells, already agreed
to cover the legal expenses and auditing fees the town incurs. School board members said the district will not suffer any financial loss because of the incident.
"Chartwells has been extremely cooperative with getting everything corrected and putting a corrective plan in place," said school board Chairman Tim Hagen.
The corrective plan from Chartwells outlines its recommended procedural changes. Chartwells is seeking input from the school board regarding the plan. School officials are already suggesting that a monthly review of the school lunch program be conducted.
According to court documents, Beverly Howard, 53, of Westerly, embezzled $334,778.31 from the school lunch fund over three years while working as the dining services director. Chartwells fired her in when its auditors discovered in September that the money was missing.
An arrest warrant says the money was used to support six years of gambling losses that amounted to $381,406 at Foxwoods Resort Casino and $536 at Mohegan Sun.
Howard has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree larceny and is scheduled to appear in New London Superior Court on April 13.
The school lunch program contract will be put out to bid in the next month. The district has used Chartwells as its school lunch provider for more than 10 years.
According to the school district's contract with the company, if Chartwells runs a deficit at the end of the year, the school system does not have to make up the difference. If there is a profit, it's shared between the company and the school system.
It's unclear how much money the district may have lost in profit, school officials said.
Superintendent of Schools James Lombardo said in a previous interview that any money recovered will go back to the district's enterprise fund, which is used for the school nutrition program.

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