Watch Dog: Bullies Aren’t the Only Ones Taking Your Kids Lunch Money
By Derek Obregon
Isn’t it already bad enough that we have a car payment, bills, gas, a mortgage and we are constantly striving for the basic necessities like putting food on the table? This is a struggle we all face, but some people just can’t resist an opportunity when it comes up. This particular scheme wasn’t quite taking candy from a baby, but it was as easy crime for some officials in Rialto.
The former district accountant with the Rialto district’s nutrition department, Judith Oakes, may have embezzled more than $3 million in “lunch money” over 14 years. If you do the math, that comes out to about $215,000 a year! That may seem like just a bit of chunk change when compared to the annual budget of $16 million a year.
Stewart Investigations Services, a private investigator firm from Rancho Cucamonga, was hired to do a forensic audit of the nutrition services department by the Rialto unified school board. Jeff Stewart reported that Oakes may have embezzled $1.8 million over eight years and more than $3.1 million over 14 years.
Oakes was arrested on Aug. 7 on suspicion of embezzlement. According to the Rialto Police Department, Oakes was caught on video stuffing school lunch money into her bra. Attorney Trevin Sims of the Los Angeles office of Lozano Smith advised the school board to release only limited information on the matter since Stewart’s investigation “implicates a number of people.”
Oakes is the sole person arrested so far, but there have been no charges filed against her as of yet.
It has been a sad moment for everyone and board President Joseph Ayala said there’s not much to say about the case right now. “Obviously, we have issues that we need to look into and that we need to work out,” board Vice President Edgar Montes added at a recent board meeting. “If our house is dirty, we need to clean that house.” A fifth investigation will soon be underway into the Oakes matter.
Everyone, including the California Department of Education, the Rialto Police Department, San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools Office will be investigating the Rialto Unified nutrition services department.
As expected, Rialto Unified has revised its accounting and security procedures since Oakes’ arrest. “It’s unfortunate when people fall,” Ayala said. “How do we want to be regarded here in Rialto?” I’m sure they could’ve done without this scandal.
There will be a special closed-session board meeting to discuss the status of the investigation on Oct.2. Stay tuned.