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Options given in lunch fraud cases

Macon attorney James Fleissner presented the Dougherty County School Board on Monday with two possible options in pursuing fraud in its free or reduced school lunch program.

Macon attorney James Fleissner presented the Dougherty County School Board on Monday with two possible options in pursuing fraud in its free or reduced school lunch program.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Macon attorney and Mercer Law School professor James Fleissner presented the Dougherty County Board of Education with two options for delving deeper into possible school lunch fraud within the 16,000-student school system.

Fleissner pointed out that U.S. Department of Agriculture rules are quite specific when verifying the accuracy of applicants' salaries -- limiting the system to just 3 percent of applications that are not direct-certified, or pre-approved, by data already on record.

"This is basically an honor system, with not much of an audit system in place," Fleissner said. "Existing statutes and regulations dictate the scope of the efforts to randomly verify eligibility, limiting the sample to 3 percent of approved applications. My conclusion is that, absent a change in federal law, the DCSS is bound to follow the federally-imposed auditing system."

During this school year, there were 2,658 applications that were not direct-approved. The applications, however, most likely contained the names of multiple children in one family, which would push the number higher.

Fleissner told the board that the USDA, realizing that local boards might want more control of the applications, last week issued new guidance that will allow school systems to use employee salary information to identify questionable applications from school employees.

"In appropriate cases, those identified for verification to show cause may be referred to law enforcement authorities for investigation and possible prosecution," Fleissner said.

Fleissner's presentation brought sharp reactions from School Board members Darrel Ealum and Anita Williams-Brown.

"This is crazy," Ealum said. "You are telling us that if a crime is being committed, we have to stop at just 3 percent? That's crazy."

Williams-Brown had a differing opinion.

"We paid $10,000 to possibly get just a little bit of money back?" she asked. "I'll say this, if we are feeding hungry children I couldn't care less about the money."

Fleissner said the decision on where to go from here is now up to the school board.

"We looked into options, and what we found is the law of the land," he said.

BOE Chairman James Bush said it was the board's responsibility to pursue those options.

"We needed someone from the outside to come in here and take a close look at our options," Bush said. "As a board, we are duty-bound to make sure all procedures are properly followed."

The crisis arose late last year when Morningside Elementary Principal Gloria Baker and her husband, John, were each charged with three misdemeanor counts of allegedly submitting false or misleading information on free or reduced school lunch applications.

Weeks later, School Board member Velvet Riggins was also charged with two similar misdemeanor counts in addition to a felony count of offense by a public official.

Those cases have yet to be resolved.

Comments

Abytaxpayer 2 years, 2 months ago

Williams-Brown recites the DCSS Slogan “I couldn't care less about the money."

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LuLu 2 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, who cares if people lie, cheat and steal? I think that if someone reeeeeeally qualifies for free lunch, then their household most likely already gets food stamps, anyway. Let them bring lunch from home. How come we didn't get a quote from Velvet Riggins? I want to know what she thinks!

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Gabrielblows 2 years, 2 months ago

As I understand from our "hired" legal expert, nothing prohibits the examining of all DCSS employees to see if any of them applied for free or reduced priced lunches. They don't fall within the confines of the 3 % total, do they?

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coachjohnson42 2 years, 2 months ago

So, does this mean they will not go after parents who may have lied on their lunch applications to get free lunch?

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LuLu 2 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, so now everyone has free license to lie!

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Terry.Lewis 2 years, 2 months ago

Legally the Board cannot.. If irregularities are not uncovered in the 3% audit, or if there is "reasonable suspicion" of fraud, USDA regulations prohibit random audits and "over verification" of applications.

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dingleberry 2 years, 2 months ago

Roger, Terry. The government agency, USDA in the case, has no interest in trying to stop fraud. Write your Senators and ask for an audit by GAO--they work for Congress, can do it and will with some "encouragement". If citizens do nothing, nothing will be done. Putting pithy comments in the squawk box and on this website mean nothing in terms of correction. Take the time to try and get it resolved--write a letter.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 2 months ago

Write letters to Sanford Bishop. He's a fraud himself, but it is worth a shot.

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VietVet1 2 years, 2 months ago

Follks like Williams-Brown & Velvet Riggins make Albany slide deeper in the gutter. Along with children killing children.

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Shinedownfan 2 years, 2 months ago

"I'll say this, if we are feeding hungry children I couldn't care less about the money." Donchathink when the parents make 100K, the child shouldnt be hungry?

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dingleberry 2 years, 2 months ago

And they aren't! We are merely creating non-taxable income for the cheats.

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Bubbavet_rureel 2 years, 2 months ago

StrongThis is just another example of the Board trying to satisfy you guy's - Public Opinion. I have news for you, you need to get informed, There are qualified voters who are paying attention to how the monies are being spent, and we are tired of our hard earn dollars being spent to satisfy people who probable are not tax payers.

Basically you guys are against social programs, they voters have voted the current board in place, we have confidence in them, we need to ensure our monies are being spent to reflect the will of the voters.

You make statements calling people cheaters, please give these people their due process rights before you accuse them of being cheaters.

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dingleberry 2 years, 2 months ago

We seem to be having trouble getting to "due process". In the case of the Principal, I don't think possible innocence is really a big issue based on economic status we can see--a $375,000 homestead and $90,000 salary without the husband's income. Do you really think there is economic distress? OK, to be "politically correct", let's call them "seemingly obvious potential cheaters".

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billybob 2 years, 2 months ago

Complaining about these things will not do anything. It seems that people in Albany/DOCO don't understand that the majority of voters here are in favor of government hand-outs and will support candidates who are also looking for a hand-out. Corruption doesn't bother these voters. An abscence of ethics doesn't bother these voters. The same people who put Junebug, Riggins and Williams-Brown in office will keep them in office. These voters don't have a problem with them or Murfree. The reality is most voters in Albany believe in getting away with as much nonsense as you can, particularly where government hand-outs, grants, etc. are concerned.

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LuLu 2 years, 2 months ago

Sadly, you are right on the money. Lying, cheating, stealing, corruption, intimidation, immorality, etc. are just another day in paradise for some people. You may as well tell them to quit breathing as to expect them to be moral and decent human beings.

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Sister_Ruby 2 years, 2 months ago

Aside from the predictably absurd comment by Williams-Brown, this finding is completely INFURIATING!!!!!! But it obviously points out what we already know and that is that the various branches of OUR government are hell-bent on giving handouts in return for votes. That's it pure and simple and it puts rules in place to keep anybody from even looking into the possibility of fraud or abuse, vis a vis the "3 percent" limit. The next question is "Then what?" Suppose a 3 percent audit was performed and evidence of gross fraud or incomplete documentation of income (as is Gloria Baker's case) was found? (It would be/will be). Then what??????

I doubt anybody around here knows what a "3-percent audit" is. It's looking at 3 out of every hundred forms, selected randomly, to give an indicator of whether or not there are signs of fraud. If the answer is YES, then a more complete analysis should be performed, to include a review of each and every form. That's the purpose of an audit.

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dingleberry 2 years, 2 months ago

Write your Senators. They should be interested and can take action. Bitching to the choir does nothing. BTW, don't waste time writing Sanford.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 2 months ago

Gotcha, I will write my senator, Freddie Powell Sims. Trust me, I would rather write to her than Sanford Bishop. At least she tries.

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LuLu 2 years, 2 months ago

I could be wrong, but I think he meant congressional senators, not state senators.

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Sister_Ruby 2 years, 2 months ago

I guess another interpretation of the outcome of this "legal expert" is "Great news! You don't have to do anything but keep handing out the dough to anybody that has their hand out and turns in a form, even if it's obviously incomplete"

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 2 months ago

It is time for us ( Americans ) to accept responsibility for ourselves and for us to have less government in our lives. I am sick of regulations getting in the way of what is right and what is wrong in this country and clearly the government is not looking out for the best interest of us. Just spend, spend, spend is all they ever do. The government created this mess and now the tax payers will suffer in the long run.

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Cartman 2 years, 2 months ago

Cliff Notes: The Feds provided taxpayer money for free meals to students from poor families. Eligibility was determined by the honor system. Dougherty County adults including well-paid taxpayer-funded public employees knowingly provided false information to take advantage of the lack of oversight inherent in the "honor system". Some were caught in their theft. DCSS came under critisism. Attorney James Fleissner opined to the school board that their hands were essentially tied and that they could do little (3% audit). School board member Williams-Brown condoned the fraud and declared that she "...could care less about the money." Other than the unfortunate few who were previously caught, no effort will be made to uncover other thefts of public funds. DCSS students' knowledge that theivery was acceptable conduct, was reinforced. Taxpayers were informed by President Obama that they needed to pay their "fair share". The end.

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Sister_Ruby 2 years, 2 months ago

OUCH that's going to leave a mark..........

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dingleberry 2 years, 2 months ago

Carts, write your Senators. They are the only govt officials that may care and can do something.

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Cartman 2 years, 2 months ago

They might care, but I'm not sure they can do much. Our local congressman, Sanford Bishop doesn't even care. I think he even made a comment that fraud involving public money wasn't his job. He can't get involved into prompting an investigation anyways. It would be hypocritcal in light of his own past scholarship money scandal; nepotism scandal; and one other irregularity involving checks which his wife wrote, the details of which I just can't seem to remember right now. Bishop's reward for all this? The 2nd Congressional district lines were redrawn to solidify his chances for reelection. We are the sacrifical congressional district. Bottom line: Public funds will continue to be squandered. Are we Greece yet?

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dingleberry 2 years, 2 months ago

Writing Sanford Bishop for any action is more of a waste of time than commenting on this site--at least here you have a chance of influencing your peers. lol. I can assure you, your Senators can "do much" in this situation. But if we are willing to sit back and bitch and moan without letting them know "mama ain't happy", they will not consider any action. The squeaking wheel gets the grease--if politicians get concerned with the next election. If there is no concern, there is no action--give them a reason for concern.

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CJ_Fan 2 years, 2 months ago

O Mr42 is going to get you!!! You pointed out that it is only “Fair” when they take money from working people but “Fair” does not apply to their “Honor System” policies. You turn the lights on a subject and they run and hide.

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justme 2 years, 2 months ago

When the lunch money went missing under WHATLEYS watch you folks did not complain. Why now?

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Sister_Ruby 2 years, 2 months ago

There have been squawks in the newspaper every month on that subject. The Herald did not have an online forum until recently. Otherwise you would have heard about it loud and long. Whatley didn't take the money...but who did? Probably the same crowd getting all this money some kind of way.

As someone on a fixed retirement income, I am able to be out on the roads of Albany during the day in my old car with 215,000 miles on it. All day long I see people driving around in new Mercedez-Benz and BMW's and I don't mean only the cheap ones, I mean the ones that cost $100,0000-plus and I just shake my head and wonder where that money came from.....stolen, drugs, Pigford, etc etc yadda yadda. It doesn't add up in any legitimate way.

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whattheheck 2 years, 2 months ago

A believable answer was never given on the lunch money. Perhaps none was really missing as DCSS claimed but that's a hard sell. Didn't a post recently speculate that James Wilson, consultant of CRCT intimidation fame, made the missing lunch money investigation? That whole issue needs to be surfaced again for a re-look--particularly if Wilson was the one who made it. He has zero credibility in my book!

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coachjohnson42 2 years, 2 months ago

Dr. Whatley has a nice car.........

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TrixibelleBento 2 years, 2 months ago

I see those cars too and I wonder. I saw a thuggish looking young man in his 20s sporting around in a BMW 7 series with his seat all the way back and him slung way back while he was pounding the rap music loud enough to pierce my eardrums. Where in the world did he get the money for a car that expensive? Was it a legal vocation?

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Cartman 2 years, 2 months ago

I find it hard to believe that Sally Whatley is not being criminally charged in the CRCT corruption scandal. I will confess that I am not aware of her involvement in the lunch money theft. If she knew of it as well - then she should answer for that as well. But there is little chance of that, since the current board and superindendent are not concerned about repercussions.

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dingleberry 2 years, 2 months ago

People did complain but it was quickly glossed over by the DCSS PR machine. I wasn't happy with the answers received, same with others, but there wasn't any data to look at to find the "villian". The subsidized lunch money is easier for people to understand since salary info is posted to open.ga.gov. Actually, the problem occurs below the Super level although the captain of the ship is responsible--the buck stops there.

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AuntieDee 2 years, 2 months ago

Where is Stan McWhorter? Hundreds of thousands went missing under his watch as the Director of the Lunch Program. He just rode off into the sunset and into his vacation home somewhere. No one said a mumbling word. I'm not condoning anyone of theft. But if they go after Riggins and Baker they need to also go after McWhorter. After that money went missing on his watch the prices of lunch increased and the poor children had to suffer. Now when the children can't pay they get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. McWhorter probably got his severance pay and a pat on the back. Again the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer.

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dingleberry 2 years, 2 months ago

As I recall, we went to free lunches for all for a long period before the lunch money problem. When no one pays, there will be less money to work with. Won't say that is the answer--just part of it. It should have been pursued with vigor until an answer we could understand was provided. It was not.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 2 months ago

Yep, because Albany's federal stimulus money went to where... free lunches instead of repairing the Broad Ave. bridge as the leaders intended doing with the money but instead of creating jobs they gave it to the schools for free lunches. We have geniuses running this town don't we? Don't vote for the T-Splost because they will just waste that money too.

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Citizen_A 2 years, 2 months ago

He is not living in a vacation home...he is not rich!!!! He never pocketed any money!!!!! Nor did he get a pat on the back. All the money issues were on paper, and never in anyone's pocket. See my reply below....

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Citizen_A 2 years, 2 months ago

The money never went missing...it was never there. Go back and research the situation. In a nutshell, free lunches were given to the entire school system, in anticipation of money coming in, and it didn't.

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whattheheck 2 years, 2 months ago

What monies did we anticipate coming in and was the anticipation based on a reasonable expectation? While the answer may be simple, the explanations provided at the time were not convincing.

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AuntieDee 2 years, 2 months ago

Well, whatever the case he came under fire for 2 seconds for the money that was not there.. We heard about it maybe one or two days. After that he disappeared from the main office never to be heard from again. I'm just saying, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

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coachjohnson42 2 years, 2 months ago

oh ......you gonna strike a nerve now .......lol

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Bubbavet_rureel 2 years, 2 months ago

The "USDA" are not as small minded as you would think, writting your representatives is always good, however, the "USDA" are acting under the guideance of the laws, that the people established when the Constitution was drafetd and ratified in 1781.

Work with the officials, stop downing every issue. People who speak negative about teachers, including accusing them of cheating, need to search for the facts, which are forthcoming. " just remeber to give the teachers exonerated their due recognition.

It's true that conservatives care less about social programs. Please remember early voting started yesterday. Democracy is not free.

Bubbavet_rureel.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 2 months ago

I don't vote early anymore. Not since what happened in the municipal election. My early vote didn't even count. Go vote on the day you are suppose to and not early that way you know your vote counts.

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waltspecht 2 years, 2 months ago

If the Parents are provided Public Funds to feed themselves and their children, then their failure to do so is Child Abuse and should be prosecuted as such. The Free Lunch program started because some Parents were too busy looking out for themselves, and not their children. So the children went to School hungrey. Instead of addressing the problem, Sorry Parents, it was decided it would be easier to just dump more Taxpayer Money into the mix. The Parents that won't feed their own children out of their allotment need to be dealt with by the legal system, instead of sweeping it under the table, and feeding the Children at School

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Jacob 2 years, 2 months ago

Honor systems only work with people who have honor. In Albany, an honor system equals more free cheese for all.

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TrixibelleBento 2 years, 2 months ago

There's not enough jail cells to hold all the folks who lie and cheat in this city or let their kids go hungry. This city would turn into one huge Alcatraz if all the folks who needed to be in jail were in fact put there...not that there's anything wrong with that!

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Justice4Moma 2 years, 1 month ago

There will be nothing done to any of them.They all think soon as something else comes out,we will get on it and forget all about all this.Our Leaders have shown us over and over,that its not who you are it s who you know in Albany.They have that CONFLICT of intrest down pat now!

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