Former Food Guru Pleads Not Guilty to Embezzlement Charges

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Once praised by former first lady Michelle Obama for introducing healthier school meals, a former Los Angeles Unified School District official pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of taking public money and funneling it into his culinary club.

David Binkle, 55, was arraigned in state criminal court in downtown Los Angeles after prosecutors charged him on misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement of public funds and conflict of interest, perjury and forgery.

Binkle posted the $220,000 bail, according to reports. After entering his not-guilty plea, Binkle was ordered to return to court for a preliminary setting hearing on Oct. 5.

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office says that between 2010 and 2014, Binkle misappropriated almost $65,000 from the school district for his culinary club and placed some funds in a personal bank account. He also forged a signature on an application to become a school district vendor and did not disclose outside financial interests, according to the DA’s office.

The ex-official and professional chef was placed on unpaid leave from the second largest school district in the nation in late 2014, after an audit uncovered suspicious spending and mismanagement.

Binkle denied the allegations and resigned that same year. In 2015, he told the Los Angeles Times he was “deeply disheartened, frustrated and baffled” by the district’s decision to remove him.

“I have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide since my actions were approved and encouraged from senior district officials, general counsel or the ethics office,” Binkle wrote in an email. “I am confident the truth and facts will show the allegations are unsubstantiated.”

Binkle met with Michelle Obama at the White House and was a food czar for a $354 million healthy-meals program that served 615,000 students, the Times said.

If convicted he faces up to 13 years in state prison.

 

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