A top school lunch reformer for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), who received praise from former first lady Michelle Obama, has been charged with 15 felony counts, including embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds.
David Binkle, 55, a former chef who ultimately oversaw a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars as he implemented Michelle Obama’s school lunch program in the LAUSD, pleaded not guilty to all the counts during an appearance in court on Tuesday and posted $220,000 bail, reports the L.A. Times.
Prosecutors allege that Binkle – who railed against childhood obesity with appearances on Tedx Talks – illegally directed about $65,000 of the school district’s funds into his private consulting firm, some of which eventually ended up in his own pocket.
The news report continues:
According to court documents, Binkle repeatedly misappropriated district funds in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 between 2010 and 2014. Prosecutors also allege that he forged an application to become a vendor with the district and failed to disclose outside financial interests.
Binkle, who became known for his use of the phrase “nasty, rotty” food, led the former first lady’s unpopular school lunch reform in the district even as students established their own black market of favorite – albeit “unhealthy” – foods.
In his efforts to implement the school lunch reform, Binkle offered lengthy contracts to providers such as Tyson Foods Inc., Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales, Goldstar Foods, and Five Star Gourmet Foods. Some of the vendors also agreed to annual donations of $500,000 to a healthy eating marketing program in the school district.
Problems with Binkle’s management, however, were noted as early as 2011 by George Beck, a former food-services deputy branch budget director, who reportedly brought his concerns to the district but was ignored and then laid off.
Nevertheless, in 2014, the LAUSD’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) accused Binkle of failing to disclose his ownership of California Culinary Consulting or payments from vendors who appeared at school nutrition events.
The OIG audit noted his firm presented “at minimum an appearance of a conflict of interest,” and his marketing program was “being mismanaged and at worst being consistently abused” by Binkle, who said he was “frustrated and baffled” by the allegations.
“I have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide, since my actions were approved and encouraged from senior district officials, general counsel or the ethics office,” Binkle emailed the Times. “I am confident the truth and facts will show the allegations are unsubstantiated.”
Beck, however, reportedly said Binkle’s activity was a symptom of larger problems within LAUSD:
He negotiated these contracts with these firms with no oversight, nobody else participating. It was a huge procurement bureaucracy. There was one contract for vegetarian entrees, and I remember sitting in a meeting with 35 people. Binkle was there. He had one entrée that was $2.25 per item, and our reimbursement was less than the cost of the meal. Every meal that we sold, we were losing money.
Beck added he was surprised it took so long for prosecutors to uncover the problems with Binkle.
“All these internal control entities that were supposed to be exercising internal control were not doing it,” he said. “I brought it to their attention, and they did nothing about it.”
“While recognizing that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, the charges against Mr. Binkle are extremely upsetting as they do not reflect the professionalism, ethics and character we expect of all L.A. Unified employees,” the school district said in a statement.
In October of 2014, Breitbart News also reported a major scandal in the LAUSD in which former superintendent John Deasy – a former employee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – resigned after pushing a $1.3 billion iPad buy for every child in the district from joint sellers Apple and Pearson, the latter of which had designed a companion iPad curriculum. The program was a huge failure and led to further scrutiny of Deasy’s close personal ties with Apple and Pearson.
In 2015, Deasy ultimately joined a training academy funded by one of his supporters, philanthropist Eli Broad. He became a consultant and the superintendent-in-residence for the Broad Academy, which trains urban public education leaders.