Former LAUSD food services director accused of public corruption charges
Sarah Favot | August 8, 2017
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LA Unified’s former food services director who resigned under a cloud of controversy has been charged with 15 counts of misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement of public funds, conflict of interest, perjury, and forgery.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced the charges Tuesday against David Binkle. Binkle, 55, pleaded not guilty in Los Angeles criminal court Tuesday, according to reports.
Binkle, who served as food services director from 2012 until he was placed on administrative leave in 2014, was highly regarded and reached a celebrity status in the food world, appearing on Ted Talks and receiving praise from former First Lady Michelle Obama for promoting healthy food in schools. He resigned in July 2015 after an internal audit by LA Unified’s Office of the Inspector General was released two years ago, which found ethics violations and financial mismanagement.
• Read LA School Report’s profile of the new food services director, Joseph Vaughn.
The charges stem from that audit, according to the district attorney’s office, that found that Binkle had violated ethical codes by asking a food contractor to pay for his airfare and hotel accommodations. It also found that the total value of the gifts was $8,831, far above the allowed limit of $100 per year. Binkle also failed to properly report the gifts and to report his ownership of a food consulting business, the audit found.
Prosecutors allege Binkle funneled approximately $65,000 from LA Unified to a culinary club that he controlled as president. He also is alleged to have placed some of those funds into his personal bank account.
Binkle also is accused of forging an application to become a vendor to LA Unified and misappropriating school district funds, according to prosecutors. Binkle additionally failed to report his outside financial interests, as is required of a public employee in his position.
Binkle started working for the district in 2008 as deputy food services director. He is a professional chef and is a chef instructor at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, according to his LinkedIn page. The alleged crimes were discovered in August 2013 after the district began its investigation, according to the DA.
Binkle continued to collect his $152,000 a year salary while he was on administrative leave until he resigned.
LA Unified spokeswoman Shannon Haber said in a statement that following the audit the district “tightened financial controls and revamped the procurement process.”
“While recognizing that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, the charges against Mr. Binkle are extremely upsetting as they do not reflect the professionalism, ethics and character we expect of all L.A. Unified employees,” Haber said. “We will continue to cooperate with and support the District Attorney’s Office as it prosecutes these charges.”
The charges are three counts each — of misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement of public funds, and conflict of interest — as well as five counts of perjury and one count of forgery.
Binkle faces a maximum sentence of 13 years, eight months in state prison if he is convicted of the charges.
The district hired Joseph Vaughn a year ago to take over the position as food services director. Timikel Sharpe and Laura Benavidez took over the department on an interim basis after Binkle resigned.
*UPDATE This story has been updated to add how Binkle pleaded Tuesday and to add a statement from LA Unified.