NEWYORK — A man who oversaw food service for New York City schools was convicted Wednesday in a bribery case that shed light on how chicken pieces with bones and metal flakes were served. for months in the nation’s largest public school system.
Former City Department of Education official Eric Goldstein and the three men who founded a school caterer – Blaine Iler, Michael Turley and Brian Twomey – were found guilty of bribery, conspiracy and other charges after a month-long trial.
It delves into the school menu, from yogurt parfait to ravioli. And the trial gave jurors a gut-wrenching look at what some students and school staff experienced when a brand called Chickentopia hit their plates in 2016 and 2017.
Brooklyn-based U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement on Wednesday: “Our children depend on nutritious meals served in schools, and they receive healthy meals instead. Poor quality food products that contain plastic, metal and bone fragments. He called the case “a textbook example of choosing greed” over children’s happiness.
Goldstein’s attorney, Kannan Sundaram, declined to comment. Messages requesting comment were sent to the city’s Department of Education and attorneys for Iler and Twomey, both from Dallas and Turley, in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The charges are likely to lead to 20 years in prison. No date has been set for sentencing.
As head of the school system’s Office of School Support Services from 2008 to 2018, Goldstein oversaw functions including the food service operation, known as SchoolFood. Iler, Twomey and Turley founded a company, SOMMA Food Corporation, with an eye on the New York City school system.
Around the same time, the three men and Goldstein founded another company to import grass-fed beef. Prosecutors argued that the joint venture was a vehicle to repay Goldstein’s debt.
The SOMMA founders “make sure they have the primary decision maker in their hands at SchoolFood so he makes sure that the DOE serves a wide variety of their food products,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Zuckerwise said in a statement. a debate this weekend. “Eric Goldstein also got what he wanted. He cashed in on the power, resources and influence of the office to enrich himself.”
According to prosecutors, Iler, Turley and Twomey paid thousands of dollars to Goldstein and his divorce attorney. Meanwhile, Goldstein helped ensure that the school system bought Chickentopia items and other SOMMA products, sometimes very quickly.
Then, in September 2016, SOMMA hit an obstacle: A school system employee caught a bone in Chickentopia’s supposed boneless chicken and needed the Heimlich maneuver, according to the documents. be presented in court. For a time, schools stopped serving the company’s game cocks.
Two months later, they were allowed back — a day after the founders of SOMMA agreed to pay Goldstein $66,670 and give him a stake in their beef business. Goldstein then signed off on reintroducing Chickentopia products, prosecutors said.
Bidding reappears. Complaints about foreign objects in it too. According to prosecutors, SchoolFood finally dropped the SOMMA product in April 2017.
Goldstein testified that he couldn’t buy a single product on his own, saying the “strictly controlled process” could involve dozens of decision-makers. Fast-tracking doesn’t mean skipping steps, he said.
He emphasized that he had been careful to separate his personal business from his city work.
“I always make sure that my DOE responsibility comes first,” he told the jury.
His defense rejected the argument that the payments from his beef business partners were bribes, saying the money was for things like reimbursement of travel expenses.