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A man who oversaw food service for New York City schools was convicted in a bribery case that picked apart how chicken tenders riddled with bone and bits of metal were served for months in the nation’s biggest public school system.
Former city Department of Education official Eric Goldstein and three men who founded a school food vendor — Blaine Iler, Michael Turley and Brian Twomey — were found guilty of bribery, conspiracy and other charges after a monthlong trial.
It delved into school menus, from yogurt parfait to ravioli. And the trial gave jurors a stomach-churning look at what some students and school staffers encountered when a brand called Chickentopia turned up on their plates in 2016 and 2017.
“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.
As head of the school system’s Office of School Support Services from 2008 to 2018, Goldstein oversaw functions including the food service operation, known as SchoolFood. Iler, Twomey and Turley had a company, SOMMA Food Group, with its eye on the New York City school system.
Around the same time, the three men and Goldstein formed another company to import grass-fed beef. Prosecutors argued that the venture amounted to a conduit for paying Goldstein off.
According to prosecutors, Iler, Turley and Twomey paid thousands of dollars to Goldstein and his divorce lawyer. Meanwhile, Goldstein helped ensure that the school system bought Chickentopia items and other SOMMA products, sometimes on a fast track.
Then, in September 2016, SOMMA hit a snag: A school system employee choked on a bone in a supposedly boneless Chickentopia chicken tender and needed the Heimlich maneuver, according to documents presented at the trial. For a time, the schools stopped serving the company’s chicken tenders.
They were allowed back two months later — a day after the SOMMA founders agreed to pay Goldstein $66,670 and gave him their shares of the beef business. Goldstein then signed off on reintroducing Chickentopia products, prosecutors said.
The tenders reappeared. So did complaints about foreign objects in them. SchoolFood ultimately ditched SOMMA products in April 2017, according to prosecutors.
This article was provided by The Associated Press.