December 4, 2022

AmericanHummus

Food & Travel Enthusiast

2 charged in plan to steer Hempstead faculty food items contracts, feds say

Two Extended Island gals have been indicted on federal charges of steering a lot more than $1.2 million in food stuff provider contracts for Hempstead educational facilities to a company controlled by one of the defendants in what an official said was a kickback scheme that used the school district as “their personal piggy bank.”  

Sharon Gardner, 56, of Lindenhurst, the former director of meals companies for the Hempstead Union No cost University District, and Maria Caliendo, 57, of Elmont, owner of food services companies Intelligent Commences NY Inc. and Prince Umberto’s cafe in Franklin Square, have been billed in the indictment with conspiracy to dedicate sincere providers wire fraud. Caliendo was also billed with generating phony statements to a federal agent who was investigating the alleged scheme. 

Both of those defendants pleaded not guilty to the expenses at their Thursday afternoon arraignments in advance of U.S. District Courtroom Choose Joanna Seybert in federal court in Central Islip. 

Equally were being ordered introduced on $100,000 unsecured bonds. 

Caliendo’s attorney, Joseph Benfante of Staten Island, claimed just after the arraignment: “My client is a hardworking woman who provided outstanding providers supplying neighborhood schools with foods, second to none. I truly feel she will inevitably set this behind her.”

The lawyer for Gardner, Philip Branigan of Holbrook, declined to comment.

 “As alleged, with little regard for the taxpaying public, the defendants secretly steered worthwhile food items services contracts to themselves and then illegally shared the gains,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace mentioned in a statement. “This Office environment will keep on to vigorously look into and prosecute individuals who try to corrupt our community establishments by way of unlawful bribes and kickbacks, as perfectly as the officers who enrich themselves at the expenditure of the community they serve.”

Nassau County District Lawyer Anne Donnelly, whose business helped in the probe, stated, “Alternatively of following the genuine bidding process for a food companies contract, the defendants allegedly employed the Hempstead Faculty District as their possess piggy financial institution.”

Sharon Gardner, photographed wearing a mask, leaves federal court docket in Central Islip on Thursday, soon after staying introduced on $100,000 bond. 
Credit: James Carbone

Sylvia King-Cohen, a spokeswoman for Hempstead faculties, explained in a statement: “The District is absolutely aware of the investigation and the District has been thoroughly cooperating with authorities in this subject. The unique has not been employed with the district given that 2018.” 

According to the indictment, in between January 2017 and March 2019, Gardner, even though working as the food stuff providers director for Hempstead educational institutions, steered more than $1 million in sole-resource breakfast contracts to Caliendo’s corporation, and in return Caliendo paid out Gardner much more than $121,313.60 in kickbacks, which she applied to obtain international vacations, a leased motor vehicle and residence furnishings.

Authorities allege that the kickbacks had been deposited into a bank account developed in the title of one particular of Gardner’s near loved ones users, determined in the indictment as “co-conspirator #1,” in buy to conceal the corruption. Gardner allegedly withdrew about $13,000 in money from the account, authorities explained.

For the duration of the 2016-17 university calendar year, Gardner “used her formal position to suggest and persuade,” college district officers that Caliendo’s “Good Starts off” firm need to stay clear of the essential aggressive bidding procurement system mainly because the firm experienced as a “sole source exception,” in accordance to the indictment. Though the district necessary aggressive bidding before awarding contracts, it permitted for exceptions when it determined the goods or companies could only be procured from a solitary source. 

Maria Caliendo, center, leaves federal court in Central Islip on...

Maria Caliendo, center, leaves federal court docket in Central Islip on Thursday with her attorney, left, and an unidentified girl.
Credit history: James Carbone

“Primarily based principally on Gardner’s endorsement,” the indictment mentioned, the college district procured prepackaged breakfasts for students from Caliendo’s company for the remainder of the yr.

In the course of the future college yr, the indictment explained, Gardner yet again applied her formal placement to award a deal providing breakfast to the organization all over again, in spite of receiving a few other bids that were significantly less costly. 

Caliendo, in what authorities stated were being voluntary interviews with investigators, manufactured “materially bogus statements” about the nature of the payments, “falsely saying that they represented compensation for a startup mortgage from Gardner’s family member, regardless of obtaining been given no funds contribution, function or labor from that unique,” authorities mentioned.

If convicted, the defendants deal with up to 20 many years of imprisonment for the conspiracy to dedicate wire fraud demand.

Gardner and Caliendo are owing again in courtroom on July 19. 

With Craig Schneider