Free or reduced-cost school lunches are godsends to New Jersey families who cannot otherwise afford these meals for their children. In 2013, more than 650,000 children throughout the state participated in this program. However, free meals can be enticing even to families making six-figure incomes. Some people may go to great lengths -- including lying -- in order to take advantage of this federally funded program, which is paid for by taxpayers. That was what six New Jersey women allegedly did, and they now face fraud charges.
If convicted, the six public officials -- who range in age from 34 to 53 years old -- face up to five years in prison and $15,000 in fines for stealing $10,000 in free lunches. The women applied for the National School Lunch Program and were accepted after allegedly lying about their incomes. They reportedly did not claim their spouses' incomes, and one earned as much as $115,000 per year while receiving $862 in free lunches.
The women were allegedly able to get away with the school lunch fraud because most applications are not reviewed. However, the comptroller became suspicious when children in 15 districts received $1 million in benefits. The parents' salaries are public records and were able to be verified. That's when the discrepancies were noticed.
The six women were not the only ones charged with fraud. School employees, board members and state workers were also charged.
Fraud is considered a felony and therefore, treated as a serious crime. Those accused of fraud can face hefty fines and penalties, but first-time offenders are sometimes spared prison. However, each case is different, and the advice of a criminal defense attorney can prove invaluable.
Source: NJ.com, "Free school lunch fraud in NJ districts leads to charges against 6 across the state," June 24, 2014.