The professional chef considered a nationally recognized school nutrition guru is facing multiple felonies including embezzlement and forgery.
David Binkle, 55, formerly the director of food services for the Los Angeles United School District, could wind up in jail for 13 years if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and was released on $220,000 bail. He is due back in court on October 5.
Binkle received accolades from Michelle Obama as she promoted healthy food in the lunchroom and met with her at a White House roundtable discussion on May 27, 2014, as part of a panel of school nutrition experts.
He was suspended by the LAUSD, the country’s second-largest school district, in December 2014 after an inspector general’s audit that looked into alleged mismanagement of the program. He resigned his position on July 31, 2015.
Binkle has previously denied any wrongdoing.
The Los Angeles Times details the allegations against Binkle, which might include self-dealing, while he was overhauling the school system menu by cutting down on fat, sugar, and salt in meals among initiatives to address childhood obesity.
“But as he was revolutionizing meals for the district’s students, prosecutors allege, Binkle illegally funneled roughly $65,000 of the district’s money into a private consulting firm he ran, then placed some of that money into his own pocket…According to court documents, Binkle repeatedly misappropriated district funds in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 between 2010 and 2014. Prosecutors also allege that he forged an application to become a vendor with the district and failed to disclose outside financial interests.”
The LAUSD serves meals for nearly 700,000 students each school day.
Michelle Obama championed the crafting of revisions to the National School Lunch Program promulgated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that required schools to place limits on calories, trans fats, sodium, and portion size, while mandating fruit and vegetable options, Breitbart News reported. Back in April 2014, even before the stricter federal standards took effect, Binkle admitted to the L.A. Times that students who found the the lunchtime fare less than palatable threw out about $100,000 worth of food every day, which totaled about $18 million per year. The U.S. government spends about $12 billion on the school lunch program.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is in the process of rolling back some of the former first lady’s school lunch standards by giving localities more flexibility and postponing certain regulations, according to The Hill. “If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition — thus undermining the intent of the program,” Perdue said.
“While recognizing that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, the charges against Mr. Binkle are extremely upsetting as they do not reflect the professionalism, ethics and character we expect of all L.A. Unified employees,” a statement from the school district explained.
Watch this space for updates on the criminal charges facing David Binkle.
[Featured Image by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images]