A verdict was reached in a notable case in New York City, as a man who supervised food service for the city’s schools was found guilty of bribery.
Alongside him, three individuals connected to a school food vendor, namely Blaine Iler, Michael Turley, and Brian Twomey, were also convicted of bribery, conspiracy, and other charges after a monthlong trial.
The case delved into the intricacies of school menus, examining items ranging from yogurt parfait to ravioli.
However, what captured the attention of the jury was the distressing revelation of what students and school staff encountered during 2016 and 2017 when a brand called Chickentopia appeared on their plates.
The evidence presented a stomach-churning account of chicken tenders contaminated with bone and bits of metal that had been served for months throughout the nation’s largest public school system.
This conviction brings to light the importance of maintaining high standards in food service and ensuring the safety and well-being of students in schools.
The trial exposed the need for rigorous oversight and accountability in providing nutritious and safe meals to students, who rely on these services for their daily nourishment.
“Our children depended on nutritious meals served in schools and, instead, got substandard food products containing pieces of plastic, metal, and bones,” Brooklyn-based U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement Wednesday. He called the case “a textbook example of choosing greed” over children’s well-being.
Kannan Sundaram, the attorney representing Goldstein, chose not to provide a comment. Requests for comment were also made to the city Education Department and the attorneys representing Iler, Twomey, and Turley, who are based in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas, respectively.
The charges faced by the defendants carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. However, the date for sentencing has not yet been scheduled.
During Goldstein’s tenure as the head of the Office of School Support Services from 2008 to 2018, which included overseeing the food service operation known as SchoolFood, he collaborated with Iler, Twomey, and Turley, who was associated with SOMMA Food Group and expressed interest in supplying the New York City school system.
Simultaneously, the four individuals formed another company to import grass-fed beef. Prosecutors argued that this venture served as a means to provide illicit payments to Goldstein.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Zuckerwise emphasized in her closing argument that the SOMMA founders ensured that Goldstein, a key decision-maker in SchoolFood, was influenced to favor their food products.
She stated that Goldstein took advantage of his position, utilizing the power, resources, and influence of his office for personal enrichment.
According to prosecutors, Iler, Turley, and Twomey allegedly made payments amounting to thousands of dollars to Goldstein and his divorce lawyer.
In return, Goldstein purportedly used his influence to facilitate the procurement of Chickentopia products and other items from SOMMA, at times expediting the process.
However, in September 2016, a setback occurred when a school system employee choked on a bone found in a Chickentopia chicken tender, despite it being advertised as boneless.
The incident required the use of the Heimlich maneuver, as revealed in trial documents. As a result, the schools temporarily ceased serving Chickentopia chicken tenders.
Two months later, after the SOMMA founders agreed to pay Goldstein $66,670 and relinquished their shares in the beef business, the chicken tenders were reintroduced, according to prosecutors.
Complaints about foreign objects in the tenders resurfaced along with their return. Eventually, SchoolFood decided to discontinue the use of SOMMA products altogether in April 2017.
During the trial, Goldstein testified that he could not unilaterally influence purchasing decisions, emphasizing that the process involved multiple decision-makers and rigorous protocols.
He claimed that fast-tracking did not imply bypassing necessary steps and asserted that he maintained a clear distinction between his personal business and his responsibilities within the Department of Education (DOE).
Goldstein’s defense refuted the notion that the payments from his beef business partners constituted bribes, asserting that the funds were intended to cover travel expenses and other legitimate purposes.