TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John Hoffman announced that Marie Munn, the former president of the Elizabeth School Board, was convicted at trial yesterday of stealing from the Elizabeth School District’s free lunch program by filing false applications for her own children. The federally funded program offers free and reduced-price lunches for students who otherwise might not be able to afford them.
Munn, 49, of Elizabeth, was convicted by a Union County jury of third-degree charges of theft by deception and tampering with public records or information. The verdict followed a five-day trial before Superior Court Judge Robert Mega. Deputy Attorney General Veronica Allende tried the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Munn was charged as a result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice and the State Police Official Corruption Bureau.
The state presented evidence and testimony that Munn filed false applications for her two children for the free and reduced-price lunch program that resulted in one or both children receiving benefits to which they were not entitled in each of the five consecutive school years 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11.
One child graduated in 2009, so only the remaining child received benefits in the last two years. As a result of the false applications, her children received $2,649 in benefits to which they were not entitled.
Munn grossly understated her household income to obtain the benefits for her children. Her and her husband’s annual incomes exceeded the federal household income limit for the program by as much as $100,000 in 2008-09, and by $94,000 or more in three of the other years.
“It is shameful that a school board president in an Abbott district would steal from a program designed to help disadvantaged schoolchildren,” said Hoffman. “This verdict sends a very powerful message that officials who corruptly turn public service into self-service will be held accountable for their actions.”
“This verdict reflects our determination to root out corruption in our school districts. In these difficult economic times, it is critical that every tax dollar allocated for school programs be appropriately spent to serve the students in our schools,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We urge any member of the public who has information regarding theft or misappropriation of school funds to contact us.”
Deputy Attorney General Mark Ondris presented the case to the state grand jury and conducted the investigation with Detective Sgt. 1st Class Lisa King and Detective Pablo Castro of the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption North Unit. Deputy Attorneys General Emily Anderson and Sarah Ross of the Division of Criminal Justice Appellate Bureau provided appellate assistance at trial.
Third-degree crimes carry a sentence of up to three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Judge Mega scheduled sentencing for Munn for May 2.
The investigation was launched by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau after an article in The Star-Ledger revealed that the children of officials in the Elizabeth school district were improperly participating in the federally subsidized school lunch program despite household incomes that exceeded the limits for eligibility.
The Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau has established a toll-free Corruption Tip Line 866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities. Additionally, the public can visit www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing. All information received through the tip line or webpage will remain confidential.