An Elizabeth Public Schools custodial employee and spouses of three additional employees have been criminally charged for fraudulently enrolling their children in the school district’s free and reduced-price lunch program by drastically under-reporting their household income, acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo announced Wednesday.
Nelly Acevedo, 52 (the lone district employee), Faraj Assi, 42, Mayra Rivas-Pozo, 39, and Angelica Roman, 39, each is charged with a single count of third-degree theft by deception.
The charges mark the result of an approximately six-month investigation by the Special Prosecutions Unit (“SPU”) of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office (“UCPO”), stemming from a referral by Elizabeth Public Schools, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Robert Rosenthal, who is prosecuting the case. The school district contacted investigators earlier this year when it uncovered discrepancies during the performance of an annual audit of the aforementioned lunch program, as required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), which funds it.
UCPO Detective Dennis Donovan performed a forensic financial analysis of the program, looking back three school years, and uncovered the alleged criminal conduct. The four defendants ultimately were found to have allegedly fraudulently enrolled multiple children in the lunch program at various times over the course of the three school years, collectively claiming approximately $7,000 in benefits by under-reporting their household income by more than $925,000.
These criminal charges are mere accusations. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.