An ousted New York education chief has been convicted in a bribery scheme that saw children eat chicken with bits of metal after a jury saw photos of him beaming in a slaughterhouse with one of his co-conspirators.
Eric Goldstein, the former head of the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Academic Support Services, was convicted of extortion, conspiracy and bribery on Wednesday, along with his co-conspirators, Blaine Iler , Michael Turley and Brian Twomey – the owners of Texas-based Somma Food Group. The four men now face up to 20 years in prison each.
Federal prosecutors say Goldstein, 55, took ‘thousands of dollars in bribes’, estimated at nearly $80,000, from the three business owners in return for being awarded wanted support contracts to the company for their food service to New York schools.
Businessmen referred to Goldstein as “Roger Rabbit” to protect his true identity in correspondence, court documents showed, as they paid off his father and his divorce attorney.
In exchange, Goldstein sped Somma’s food onto school menus, giving the children meat that had bits of metal in it and oozed red liquid.
But Goldstein and his attorneys argued in federal court in Brooklyn that he was engaged in a legitimate business relationship with Somma that they said had nothing to do with his role overseeing the department’s SchoolFood budget.
Eric Goldstein, 55, right, is pictured here with co-defendant Blaine Iler, from whom he took bribes in exchange for Iler’s company food on school menus in New York.
Prosecutors said Iler, Michael Turley and Brian Twomey gave Goldstein a stake in their beef import business in exchange for their chicken returning to school menus. Goldstein is pictured here, left, with Twomey
An FBI document (pictured above) shows how the co-conspirators called Goldstein ‘Roger Rabbit’
During the nearly month-long trial, prosecutors argued that the three Somma Food Group executives started an imported beef business with Goldstein as a front to bribe him to have their food served in the New York public schools.
Around the same time Somma was founded in 2015, Goldstein, Iler, Turley, Twomey and another man formed Range Meats Supply Company LLC, which sourced beef from international suppliers and sold it to schools. and other retailers.
They then met Goldstein in a bid to do business with the Big Apple – and handed him a 20% stake in Range Meats while Somma sent $3,000 through the company to Goldstein’s father and $7,000 additional information to his divorce lawyer.
In turn, prosecutors say, Goldstein sped up a yogurt parfait made by Somma Foods to be served in schools.
Just a year later, he did the same for the company’s poultry, telling Iler in July 2015, “I’m going to buy you a lot of chicken. Let’s do the beef.
But soon, reports began of people bleeding from wire-like pieces of metal and half-inch blue plastic found inside the poultry.
A school staff member even choked on a bone on September 27, 2016 and needed the Heimlich maneuver to save his life.
In the aftermath, the Ministry of Education had the chicken removed from the menus, but Goldstein was able to put them back on the menus twice.
He allegedly told his co-conspirators that he would get their meat back from New York schools if they transferred Somma’s stake in Range Meats to him, and asked them to transfer $66,670 to a Range Meats bank account that he owned and controlled.
In November of that year, Goldstein approved the reintroduction of Somma’s Chicken Strips to New York schools.
It wasn’t until April 2017 that the Department of Education removed all Somma products from New York schools.
“This here is what bribery by sophisticated players looks like,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Zuckerwise said in closing arguments Monday, according to the New York Daily News.
“It’s not bags of money overnight, it’s” the creation of a corrupt side business.
During the month-long trial, jurors saw disgusting footage of the chicken the students were forced to eat, which oozed red liquid
The chicken was found to contain pieces of metal and blue plastics
But the defendants claimed in court that they were engaged in a legitimate business transaction.
They argued they negotiated the sale of Range Meats stock to Goldstein for months before the school system suspended Somma’s chicken, and said the negotiations were reviewed by lawyers.
“It was a normal business negotiation with give and take on both sides,” Goldstein’s attorney told the court. “He was not trying to extort a bribe. This is a business arrangement.
“Look for any testimony or email linking the chicken hold to the signing of the deal,” he told the jury. You won’t find any.
Goldstein also testified that he maintained a fine line between his involvement in the beef industry and his duties in the Education Department, where he oversaw thousands of employees and the $550 million food program. schools.
He claimed he had no authority to put Somma’s food on school menus, claiming that yogurt parfaits were only expedited because Somma was the only company making the product, which the school system wanted to introduce local Thursdays for its menu.
As for the chicken, he said, it filled a gap in the menu after a former poultry supplier left.
Goldstein said he sticks to a set of “guiding principles” in his role at the Department of Education.
‘I was never going to get a dime of anything in my life from the (Department of Education),’ he said on the stand. “I was always going to keep things separate. »
Goldstein oversaw thousands of employees and the schools’ $550 million food program before he was fired in 2018
He also said he didn’t feel the need to discuss his business dealings with ethics officers because he didn’t want to let his colleagues know he was planning to leave his job and pursue his career dreams. import of beef.
“If people knew I was thinking of leaving, it would be impossible to handle them,” he said, adding, “I wasn’t part of Somma.” I was not paid by Somma. I was not a shareholder.
But during cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Polemeni pointed out that Goldstein had sought ethics advice in the past on issues such as whether he could join the Monroe College board of trustees or whether managers could get $100 gift cards.
“But for the business relationship you had with Somma, you just didn’t go, you didn’t ask? Polemeni prompted the former education manager, who was fired in 2018.
“You didn’t tell them that because if someone found out they would be like, ‘What are you doing? « »