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Velvet Riggins trial gaining momentum

Defense attorney Mark Brimberry quizzes former Dougherty County Schools Nutrition Director Vanessa Hayes about forms used for the system's free and reduced lunch program during day two of former school board member Velvet Riggins' fraud trial.

Defense attorney Mark Brimberry quizzes former Dougherty County Schools Nutrition Director Vanessa Hayes about forms used for the system's free and reduced lunch program during day two of former school board member Velvet Riggins' fraud trial.

ALBANY, Ga. — The school lunch fraud trial of suspended Dougherty School Board member Velvet Riggins continued Wednesday as former DCSS Child Nutrition Services Director Vanessa Hayes admitted a mistake was made in the processing of one of Riggins’ school lunch applications.

The application, for the 2011-12 school year, is dated Sept. 20, 2011, and lists an annual income of just $9,066 from child support and her monthly stipend as a school board member. On the income (Part 4) section of the application, she had written “Girl Scouts” but left out a dollar amount in annual income.

This qualified Riggins’ two children for free meals.

“A blank amount (in the income area) is a red flag for us.” Hayes, who is now the CNS director for the Tift County School System, testified. “It (the application) should not have been processed ... we didn’t follow our own procedures.”

Riggins’ attorney Mark Brimberry asserted that the CNS department made a mistake by processing the application without her Girl Scouts income listed.

Riggins is facing four counts — two felonies and two misdemeanors — resulting from an April grand jury indictment alleging she fraudulently filled out a school lunch application to obtain free or reduced meals for her two children in the DCSS. In July, Gov. Nathan Deal suspended Riggins from office pending outcome of her trial.

The crux of the state’s case revolves around that Sept. 20 application.

The CNS official who accepted the application is retired DCSS application clerk Eva Holiday, who testified she remembered the day Riggins came into her office to fill out the paper work.

“If I remember correctly she (Riggins) was looking at the application and Robert Lloyd (former DCSS finance director) stepped in and spoke to her from the doorway,” Holiday recalled. “He asked her to come with him and she put down the application and appeared distracted. She said ‘I’ll be right back.’ and left with him.

“I was thinking that she was going to come back after she left Mr. Lloyd’s office. She never did.”

Holiday then processed the application.

Just more than a month later, on Oct. 24, 2011, Riggins submitted a second application listing an income of $39,053 — which included her $30,000 salary from the Girl Scouts.

This $39,053 figure was more in line with her other lunch applications from previous school years, which qualified her children for reduced meals at 40 cents each.

South Georgia Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Heather Lanier then called four more witnesses to the stand, including Girls Scouts of South Georgia Human Resources Director Vickie Warner; DCSS Executive Finance Director Kenneth Dyer, state Child Support Specialist Melissa Gatts and Albany High Cafeteria Manager Africa Jones.

Dougherty Superior Court Judge Stephen Goss recessed court until 9 a.m. today. Lanier said she would call “three, possibly five” more witnesses today.

Comments

jglass 1 year, 11 months ago

My question is........who is responsible for checking the apps. and verifying income? Obviously nobody has done this in the past. And, unfortunately there are probably 1000s upon 1000s of people stealing free lunches. However, I have figured out this is a numbers game for Federal Funds.

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GOBEME 1 year, 11 months ago

Once she picked up that form she was committing fraud. She knew what kind of money she made and had NO RIGHT asking for or filling out the form. That is all that should be in question!!!

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hotdog 1 year, 11 months ago

Once they did not follow proper procedures she will be found not guilty ....period....it is not illegal to ask for the form....nor is it illegal to fill it out...if it is not filled out COMPLETELY....it should never have been processed....

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outsidelookinin 1 year, 11 months ago

Temp workers are hired to manually enter the application data into a computer. The computer system chooses the federally required percentage (3% I believe) of applications that must be verified with proof of income. The applicant then may choose to provide proof and be approved or, if they choose not to provide proof, they will be automatically denied.

With 16000 students and an guestimated 80% poverty rate among them, you could safely assume that there will be about 12000 children that apply, (maybe more just a guestimate). It would be close to impossible to verify all of those applications. Not to mention the federal regualtions dealing with privacy of information and all that. The cold hard truth is that the system is terrible and lends itself to abuse, like most federal programs do. This is not a DCSS problem. It is a national problem.

In this specific case, it is a Riggins problem. She broke the law, and did so while acting as an elected official that swore to uphold certain moral values. If NOTHING else she should be ashamed of her own actions. But, as is par for the course, she is not ashamed, and in fact she is defending them.

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dingleberry 1 year, 11 months ago

Those who are on welfare/SNAP can be virtually totally ignored and will be in the future. As I recall. there is a spot on the form to check for those on subsidizes. The number to consider drops significantly based on this exclusion.

This is a national problem which a friend brought to the attention of GAs two so-called Senators. Problems identical to the DCSS situation were found in IL, NJ, NC, and OH in the six months prior to the DCSS. Their response--nothing at all. Total silence.

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LetBest 1 year, 11 months ago

At a board meeting this was thoroughly explained (by an attorney from outside Do. Co.) and the task is not easy. There are USDA guidelines and one is, you cannot scrutinized or audit every application. It is a percentage game. Many othere systems, nationwide, have come up against this. If the school system looks at too many, I believe more than 3%, they are in violation of USDA standards. They can look specifically at an application if there is a whistleblower...No matter how you look at it, the set up is not easy for any school system. Too bad DCSS lost their 100% funded status. This would not have been an issue.

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dingleberry 1 year, 11 months ago

At the front end only 3% can be verified. Afterwards, there is a process called "Verification for Cause" where there are no limits on how many can be examined. It seems Verification for Cause isn't done likely because no one in the DCSS cares and the "more the merrier" numbers pump up the revenues. It is more a matter of "won't do" it than it is "can't do it" after the initial approvals.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 11 months ago

My question is who is paying the tariff of the Brimberry Firm. Those folks are pretty successful litigators in SWGA and don't come cheap. You can look at how that man is attired with the flashy threads and coiffure and tell he hasn't missed too many billable hours. And this woman had to take lunches from poor students and families.

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Moe 1 year, 11 months ago

I don't know about Mark, but his brother ruined my family's case and then lied about it for years.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 11 months ago

Moe, sorry about your case man. But do you know who is picking up the tab for Velvet. You know her brother fell on hard times and got himself convicted and her mommer lost her election. You know if Velvet can't buy her children lunch at school how is she going to pay that man with the fancy duds and do?

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jglass 1 year, 11 months ago

It is so sad that the way the "system" works it allows people to steal and cheat since you cannot check but a very low percentage unless there is a whistle blower!!!

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MRKIA 1 year, 11 months ago

IS THIS THE SAME VANESSA HAYES THAT VELVET THREW UNDER THE BUS AND VOTED TO FIRE HER? OUCH!!!

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jglass 1 year, 11 months ago

MRKIA, I think you are right. But I think they have rehired to in some capacity paying her $400 per day up to $15,000. Something to do with these lunch apps., I think.

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dingleberry 1 year, 11 months ago

This is a different person from the one to be hired to check the apps. She will be from out of town.

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Terry.Lewis 1 year, 11 months ago

Ruth Gordon ... she is the former director of the state's FRM program. The GaDOE is not playing around anymore.

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iko 1 year, 11 months ago

Does anyone want to bet what the total costs of the Velvet "fraud" were? I bet it was less than $100 in free lunches, because if you read this article carefully, it looks like she corrected the application about a month later. Does anyone want to take that bet?

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Terry.Lewis 1 year, 11 months ago

I'd say around $24, based on .80 a day times six weeks or 30 school days.

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Abytaxpayer 1 year, 11 months ago

Iko the problem is not how much or how little she STOLE. The problem is as an elected official she had a duty to conduct herself in a lawful manner. Instead she knew before she even ask for an application what the income limitation was and proceeded to apply for her “FREE Money” cause everyone does it. She lied, stole money and cheated those who truly deserve a helping hand. Brimberry is not a Cheap lawyer and I bet Velvet bought and paid him to razzle dazzle the jury so she will walk free not matter how much or little she stole.

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Shinedownfan 1 year, 11 months ago

Part of me thinks the black preachers r paying for Brimberry. Velvet, her mother and her brother put together couldnt afford him!

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whattheheck 1 year, 11 months ago

I think the money issue is larger in prior years which are likely the same situation--don't get lost in "a month". Also appears to me the correction was a matter of Baker getting caught first and the jig was up if someone bothered to look. In my opinion, the entire fraud issue was quite likely a long standing systemic problem--DCSS was not interested in cutting teats off a cash cow. And, as a BOE member, it is more an issue of lack of public trust since BOE decisions affect a big pot of money that we are now seeing is a "cookie jar" for some.

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Margie 1 year, 11 months ago

I think the case should continue and let the process takes its course. Okay, the woman is on trial, let him the witnesses and evidence. Although her children may have gotten 'free" lunch, the question is, did Riggins fill out the application with the "intent" to get free lunch for her child(ren), knowing very well that she did not qualify? Now, IF she completed the application in the office, wrote Girl Scouts, and got distracted, which is possible and did not complete it and unfortunately it got submitted, is she really at fault. Now according to some of the evidence, Riggins completed another application and included all information with a month or so. Now, whether she knew or not that her child was eating free is another thing. But, I do know of a parent that filled out an appilcation, never heard anything as to whether it was approved or not, and was sending borrowing and fixing lunches for her child. She did this until her child told her that she was eating two lunch everyday. After questioning the child further, the little one was eating free lunch at school and whatever was in the luch box. But, let the jurors hear the case and let the system runs it course. If she did so with "intent", evidence will be produced. There are too many families that need the service than for someone who doesn't need it to get it. However, the system and problem needs to be fixed.

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Terry.Lewis 1 year, 11 months ago

Margie, congratulations on posting the most rational response in this thread.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 11 months ago

Margie, why would Velvet Riggins pick up an application for free meals and submit it completed or not? What would be the purpose? Would she get free circus tickets? Reduced admission at a movie? Why would she accept the free lunches for her children? Did she not know they were eating? Certainly the jury will finish the case but the more this incident is discussed and carried forward the more likely the public will demand repair.

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GG126 1 year, 11 months ago

The application is for free OR reduced meals. Mrs. Riggins was more than likely applying for reduced meals, which her family probably qualifies for. I work in Lee County and believe me--the same thing goes on over there. There are two parent households with both parents employed reporting only one income. The repair will need to begin at the top with USDA.

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beenhereawhile 1 year, 11 months ago

Margie, your comment is very rational. Now I have never filled out this application, but every on other form that I have filled in, the last thing to fill out on the form is a signature, usually with some statement saying that you verify that everything on the form is correct (in legalese of course).

So did she sign the form???? If not, maybe her explanation is valid, but if she signed it, I think then she is in trouble.

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DoctorDorite 1 year, 11 months ago

The crime here in Dougherty Co. schools lunch program is the kids are having to eat this stuff they serve called food whether its "free" or "paid". The buzzards at the landfill where its dumped are like the kids, they'll eat it only when there's no other choice. Parents, don't torture your kids with this junk, make them a sandwich.

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whattheheck 1 year, 11 months ago

Let's back this horse up for a moment and revisit some events/dates. Riggins "bad" application was filed Sep 20, 2011. Baker was booked in Oct 2011, which means her application was under a look see for awhile before. Riggins refiled Oct 24, 2011. It sounds like to me the refiling was likely because the jig was up for Baker and Riggins was refiling to save her bacon, not to correct an "error"? And wasn't it reported earlier that Riggins had filed questionable applications in prior years?

Perhaps we need to watch the shell with the pea a little more closely. I do agree an application without a salary should be "bucked back" but perhaps this was an intentional rather than erroneous omission--"jeez. I forgot to put down a number!". Prior years applications may hold the key to the Sep 2011 submission.

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Terry.Lewis 1 year, 11 months ago

My question is that if you are intentionally committing fraud, why list the employer in the first place?

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jglass 1 year, 11 months ago

Good point Whattheheck. When completing important paperwork, should you not review and double check the paperwork to make sure nothing was forgotten? Anyway, I know Heather Lanier is ready for another day!!!!

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URWrongAgain 1 year, 11 months ago

I know a lot of people who comment here want her (Riggins) found guilty, but I'm reading the testimony and it seems like this might not be the strongest case for fraud. The statement by Ms. Holiday,

“If I remember correctly she (Riggins) was looking at the application and Robert Lloyd (former DCSS finance director) stepped in and spoke to her from the doorway,” Holiday recalled. “He asked her to come with him and she put down the application and appeared distracted. She said ‘I’ll be right back.’ and left with him. I was thinking that she was going to come back after she left Mr. Lloyd’s office. She never did.”Seems to indicate she was distracted in the midst of completing the application. Especially if the document was taken by Ms. Holiday (assuming Ms. Riggins never returned to complete) and then processed by the system. It would seem if she were finished, she would have stated such when called away by Mr. Lloyd. She said, I'll be right back. Also the statement by Ms. Hayes. "It (the application) should not have been processed ... we didn’t follow our own procedures.”

Are these prosecution witnesses???

I can attest to the fact that when filling out these school forms (and I have filled out quite a few), sometimes I will complete all the items for which I have answers or information (even to the point of signing it) and complete items for which I have to search for last - such as a health insurance policy number, emergency contact address, etc.).

But I also agree that it is a signfiicant point that the document, eventhough not completed, if signed may present a problem for the defense. At this point I have no idea of the outcome, but if I were a juror, I know how I would vote.

Thanks Mr. Lewis, your reporting has be impartial and impecable and points out significant things that decrease a lot of the speculative commentary. It seems to have suppressed a lot of the emotional comments that usually crop up and directed the dialog toward actual events.

Also kudos to Margie for an insightful and logical post.

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Margie 1 year, 11 months ago

URWrong Again, now you hit the nail on the head. A lot of people wanted Riggins to be found guilty, but they are forgetting the legal process, evidence, and State witnesses. I certainly didn't created the judicial system, “innocent" until found "guilty", but I am glad that is in place, whether I agree with the outcome or not. Often times hate, racism, disdain for others can cause one not to be objective and consider the facts. I still can’t help but wonder if Riggins were not black, and on the school board would there be so much anger about the verdict. Why can’t this verdict be accepted? I too have begun the process of completing an application, got distracted and didn’t complete it. I have had incomplete applications and forms returned to me due to being incomplete. Unless the school lunch program has changed, at one time the student could be approved for full free or reduced lunch. Basically what people are doing is speculating. Taxpayers got what they wanted, a trial by a jury of her peers. The jury came back with a verdict, of not guilty and it is final. I hadn’t heard all of the evidence before the trial and thought to myself, why would Riggins risk her freedom for a couple of free school lunch meal, and why didn’t she take the plea? Now, I understand and I am glad that she didn’t, because she knew the truth better that I or any of us. When you know the truth about something, and know that you have done nothing wrong, then you must fight. A plea bargain would have ruined this woman’s life. As for Ms. Baker’s, her case is different. Her salary and that of her husband’s if he was employed, wouldn’t have qualified her for free or reduce lunch, even if her husband wasn’t working. But, Riggins income is a whole lot less than Baker. If middle-class range of income for a family of 4, 2 parents and 2 children is around $50,000, that cuts Riggins out of that range. Well as for this poster, I’ll wait for another worthwhile topic to discuss in the future that “peek” my interest; otherwise I am done with this one. But, I will say again as I’ve said previously, the school board needs to be accountable and take responsibility and it is time to get people on the board that can make good things happen for our children. My children are adults, and attended public school, and things were better in some respect, but there were still problems. Best of luck to Ms. Riggins, and it is my prayer that she learns from the experience. Oh, I agree with one of the poster, fix your children a lunch, it probably would be healthier and taste better any way.

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