Five members of the Government Accountability Office, a federal government watchdog agency, were indicted this week on charges of fraudulently reporting their incomes in order to obtain discounted meals for their children.
Officials announced there may be almost 300 other government employees who have committed similar fraudulent acts. The Washington Post’s Lynh Bui says the alleged theft with which these six workers are charged cost the government $13,000 over four years.
“This is a program for people who can’t afford it, but these are people who can,” said John Erzen, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office.
One of the persons charged is Lynette Mundey, a Prince George’s County Board of Education member, who is scheduled to leave the board this month. She and five others are charged with under-reporting their income or having reported no income, according to county and federal officials. Their salaries actually ranged from $55,000 to $78,000.
The National School Lunch Program offers free meals to children from families at or below 130% of the poverty level. For families of four with incomes up to 185% of the poverty level, children are entitled to receive reduced-price meals. A reduced-price meal is 40 cents, while a full-price meal costs $2.75 for elementary school students and $3 for middle and high school students, reports Prince George’s County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services.
The six are accused of benefiting from reduced-price lunches, or stealing federal subsidies for which, allegedly, they were not entitled. Although other children who legitimately receive free lunches through the program were not affected by the actions of the six, any money fraudulently taken from this critical and much-needed program takes away federal money that could be going to other students, said Erzen.
“It’s concerning when you have a public official . . . who is actually committing fraud against the very system she is helping to advance,” Erzen said. “It seems like a lot of trouble to go through for such a small amount of money.”
The employees are continuing to work for the agency while it monitors the results of the criminal cases before deciding any personnel actions, writes Amanda Iacone for WTOP-TV. A GAO audit of the National School Lunch Program that uncovered the “stealing”, which is how State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks described the actions. The activities took place between 2010 and 2014.
Alsobrooks said in a statement that there was no defending stealing funds that were meant to go to children whose parents could not afford school lunches. What they did was worse, she said, because some of the group claimed to have no income at all, in spite of the fact that they were working full-time at the GAO.
NBC Washington reports that County Executive Rushern Baker appointed Mundey to the school board, which in 2013 became a hybrid board with both appointed and elected members. Erzen said that Mundey should not be given preferential treatment.
“She is not above the law,” said Erzen. “She’s going to be treated just as any other normal citizen would.”