A 66-year-old former school administrator in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois named Vera Liddell has been charged with felony offenses. The charges are related to an embezzlement scheme that took place over two years and involved stealing $1.5 million worth of chicken wings and other food items. Liddell used to work as the director of food services at Harvey School 152, which is located twenty-five miles outside of Chicago. If she is found guilty, Liddell could face up to thirty years in prison.
Liddell has been charged with felony offenses which include Continuing Financial Crimes Enterprise and Class X felony theft for reportedly stealing chicken wings and other food items worth millions of dollars. These charges are brought against those who steal property worth over $1,000,000 and can result in a sentence of up to thirty years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, and payment for damages caused.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Liddell has been an employee of Harvey School District 152 since May 2011. In July 2020, she started working with the district as a consultant. Allegedly, between July 2020 and February 2022, she embezzled $1.5 million in “taxpayer funds” by stealing food items from the school where she was employed.
“The massive fraud began at the height of COVID during a time when students were not allowed to be physically present in school,” says a bond proffer for Liddell that was filed by Kimberly M. Foxx, the State’s Attorney for Cook County. “Even though the children were learning remotely, the school district continued to provide meals for the students that their families could pick up.”
Liddell has been contacted by the media, including TODAY.com, but has not responded. The Cook County Public Defender’s office is representing the defendant.
Interim superintendent for Harvey School District 152, Barbara Mason, said, “The district cannot comment at this time because of an ongoing investigation. However, we are fully cooperating with the authorities regarding this matter.”
Starting back in July 2020, Liddell initiated a fraudulent scheme by placing orders for food that were not authorized using the school district’s account. Specifically, she made an agreement with the district’s primary supplier for chicken wings, Gordon Food Service, a company located in Wyoming, Michigan that covers a significant portion of the American Midwest, and ordered multiple cases of chicken wings.
“The defendant placed the unsanctioned purchases separately from the district’s legitimate orders,” reads the bond proffer. “Believing the defendant was authorized to make the purchases, Gordon Food Service would then bill the school district for the items. All of the unauthorized purchases were subsequently paid by the district.”
During a routine audit in January 2022, the district’s business manager discovered that the food service department had exceeded its budget by $300,000, even though only half of the school year had passed.
“Defendant had been hired as a consultant after her tenure as Director of Food Services in 2021 to assist in the transition of the new director. The defendant continued to be the only person placing food orders for the district,” reads the filing. “As such, the defendant had contact with several Gordon Food Service employees via phone and in person multiple times per week. Interviews of these employees revealed they all were familiar with the defendant due to the massive amount of chicken wings she would purchase.”