Crime - Sacto 911

Cafeteria food vanished at high-poverty schools, feds say. Three workers face charges

Food shipments are delivered to the kitchen at Carter-Riverside High School in Fort Worth, Texas on Friday, August 23, 2013.
Food shipments are delivered to the kitchen at Carter-Riverside High School in Fort Worth, Texas on Friday, August 23, 2013. Star-Telegram

Three Twin Rivers Unified School District employees allegedly stole food from the federal lunch program when they worked at two Sacramento elementary campuses, according a federal case filed this month.

Rosemary Channel, an assistant manager of food services; Patricia Ann Shirley, a yard supervisor; and Bobbie Jean Sanford, a food service worker, face arraignment for multiple misdemeanor counts of theft Feb. 20 in federal court in Sacramento, according to Deb Duckett-Morris, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Channel and Shirley also are being charged with misdemeanor counts of conspiracy.

The defendants could not be reached for comment for this story.

The stolen food and supplies were either supplied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or paid for with federal funds through the Federal School Lunch Program or Child Nutrition Act of 1966, making their theft a federal crime that could land the women in jail for up to two years, as well as additional fines.

Channel and Sanford allegedly conspired to steal food and food service supplies from Garden Valley Elementary School in South Natomas in 2016, according to court documents. Bobbie Jean Sanford, a yard supervisor, is accused of stealing food from Fairbanks Elementary School in the Strawberry Manor neighborhood the same year.

Both neighborhoods have high levels of poverty, with over 90 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

Although court documents say the women stole an unspecified amount of food within a nine-month period in 2016, federal prosecutors are only charging the women for thefts between Sept. 2 and Nov. 16. The complaint does not estimate how much the stolen food was worth.

Over that nearly three-month period, Channel and Shirley filled roller bags with groceries and food service supplies and wheeled them out to vehicles in the parking lot, according to the complaint.

The women were contacted by investigators, but not officially arrested, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Channel is being charged with 13 misdemeanor counts of theft, while Shirley is being charged with six misdemeanor counts of theft. Sanford is being charged with 14 misdemeanor counts of theft.

Each woman could receive up to a year in prison, up to a $1,000 fine or both, and not more than a year of supervised release on the theft charges. They are asking that Channel and Shirley receive up to a year in prison or up to a $1,000 fine or both on the conspiracy charges.

Twin Rivers Unified Assistant Superintendent Gina Carreon said in a statement, “We are aware of the FBI investigation into the alleged conduct of three Twin Rivers Unified School District employees regarding allegations of the theft of U.S. commodity food meant for students. To protect the fidelity of the investigation, we will not discuss the specifics of the investigation. However, I can confirm that current employees involved with this investigation have been placed on administrative leave.

“The allegations are deeply disturbing, and we will continue to cooperate fully with authorities.”

The investigation lasted a year and resulted in the district changing its monthly food inventory procedures and adding employee training on inventory and federal regulations on the use of school commodities, according to Twin Rivers spokeswoman Zenobia Gerald.

Channel was paid between $25,290 and $28,206 per year from 2013 through 2016 as a cafe assistant 2, according to the website Transparent California, a salary data website run by a fiscally conservative think tank.

Sanford, a cafe assistant 1, was paid between $18,324 and $22,126 over the same period. Shirley made between $3,600 and $6,154 as a school crossing guard. It is not clear how many hours per week the employees worked.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert