Cook County woman charged with stealing $1.5M in chicken wings from school district
CHICAGO - Bond was set at $150,000 Thursday for a Dolton woman accused of stealing over $1.5 million of food - primarily chicken wings - while working as a consultant for a school district in south suburban Cook County, according to court documents.
Vera Lidell, 66, began working as the Director of Food Services for Harvey School District 152 in July 2020, according to a proffer from her bond hearing.
Between July 2020 and February 2022, prosecutors said Liddell placed hundreds of unauthorized orders for food items, including 11,000 cases of chicken wings, through the school district's main supplier, Gordon Food Service. The orders were placed separately from the district's legitimate orders, prosecutors said.
Vera Lidell (Cook County State's Attorney's Office)
"The massive fraud began at the height of COVID during a time when students were not allowed to be physically present in school. Even though the children were learning remotely, the school district continued to provide meals for the students that their families could pick up," the proffer said.
Believing the orders were genuine, Gordon Food Service billed Harvey School District 152, which then paid for the food items, according to court records. Lidell would then allegedly use one of the school district's cargo vans to pick up and transport the stolen food.
"The food was never brought to the school or provided to the students," the proffer said.
A routine mid-year audit conducted by the district's business manager in January 2022 showed the food service department had exceeded its annual budget by over $300,000 despite only being halfway through the school year, prosecutors said. Prosecutors said Lidell was the only person responsible for placing food orders on behalf of the district.
"Upon closer review, 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," the proffer said.
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Employees of Gordon Food Service said they were all familiar with Lidell, "due to the massive amount of chicken wings she would purchase," and surveillance video of the facility showed she would often arrive prior to the store opening to pick up the orders.
Lidell was charged with felony theft and continuing a financial crimes enterprise, prosecutors said.
She's currently being held at the Cook County Jail and is due to appear in court again on Feb. 22.