Choked up: Chicken bone scandal lands Dept. of Education execs behind bars
A federal jury in Brooklyn convicted four top executives including Eric Goldstein, the former Chief Executive Officer of the New York City Department of Education’s Office of School Support Services (NYC DOE OSS), and Blaine Iler, Michael Turley, and Brian Twomey, from SOMMA Food Group, on all counts of extortion conspiracy and bribery on Thursday.
This verdict was the culmination of a four-week trial overseen by Visiting U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin.
The charges against the quartet include Conspiracy to Commit Hobbs Act Extortion, Hobbs Act Extortion, Conspiracy to Commit Federal Program Bribery, Federal Program Bribery, Conspiracy to Commit Honest Services Wire Fraud, and Honest Services Wire Fraud.
Each defendant now faces up to 20 years in prison as well as forfeiture and restitution penalties.
From 2008 until September 2018, Goldstein oversaw the management, budget, and operations of several NYC DOE departments. During this period, Iler, Turley, and Twomey, founders of SOMMA Food Group, a food services company, co-created another company with Goldstein, Range Meats Supply Company (RMSCO).
While Goldstein used his influence to promote SOMMA’s products within SchoolFood, a department he was heading to, he intentionally concealed his ownership stake in RMSCO, thereby violating the ethics of public office. In return for various benefits, including potentially lucrative business opportunities and monetary payments to RMSCO, Goldstein expedited the approval process of SOMMA’s products, even resolving disagreements in their favor.
An NYC DOE employee choked on a bone in a chicken tender supplied by SOMMA, which led to the temporary suspension of SOMMA’s chicken tenders. The product was only reintroduced after Iler, Turley, and Twomey agreed to transfer SOMMA’s ownership interest in RMSCO to Goldstein and transfer $66,670 to a bank account that Goldstein controlled.
Despite reintroducing SOMMA’s chicken products, their tenure in the schools was short-lived. Repeated complaints about the presence of foreign objects in the chicken tenders led to the eventual removal of all SOMMA products from NYC public schools in April 2017.
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