HARVEY, Ill. — The food service director for an impoverished south suburban school district is accused of stealing $1.5M worth of food – mainly chicken wings – according to court documents reviewed by WGN Investigates.
Vera Liddell, 66, worked for Harvey School District 152 for more than a decade, according to a LinkedIn account associated with her name.
“The massive fraud began at the height of COVID during a time when students were not allowed to be physically present in school,” reads a proffer presented at Liddell’s bond hearing. “Even though the children were learning remotely, the school district continued to provide meals for the students that their families could pick up.”
Court records accuse Liddell of ordering more than 11,000 cases of chicken wings from the school district’s food provider and then picking-up the order in a district cargo van.
“The food was never brought to the school or provided to the students,” reads the proffer.
District funds were used to pay for the food, according to prosecutors, who did not reveal what became of the chicken wings.
The scheme was uncovered by the district’s business manager during a routine mid-year audit. The manager found the district was $300,000 over its annual food service budget despite only being halfway through the school year, according to prosecutors.
“She discovered individual invoices signed by Liddell for massive quantities of chicken wings, an item that was never served to students because they contain bones,” prosecutors said.
Court records say employees of the district’s food provider, Gordon Food Service, were all familiar with the defendant “due to the massive amount of chicken wings she would purchase.”
The case was investigated by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office and Liddell was charged with theft. She’s in custody at the Cook County Jail with a $150,000 bond.
Harvey School District 152’s interim superintendent Lela Bridges said she has only been on the job since last week. She told WGN she was aware of the charges but had no comment due to the ongoing investigation.
The district consists of five schools. Records indicate the district’s total enrollment is 1,600 children with more than 80% of students qualifying as “low income.”