Eric Goldstein, a former executive of the New York City Department of Education, has been found guilty of accepting bribes to overlook the supply of substandard food to public schools in the city.
A Brooklyn federal jury convicted Goldstein, who was once the head of the department’s Office of School Support Services, for extortion, conspiracy, and bribery. Goldstein, 55, faces up to 20 years in prison.
The scandal involved Somma Foods, a Texas-based meat supplier. Its owners, Michael Turley, Brian Twomey, and Blaine Iler, were also convicted of similar charges and face up to 20 years in prison.
The trial lasted four weeks, during which jurors were exposed to disturbing images of Somma’s poor-quality chicken drumsticks and testimonies of employees who raised concerns about food safety.
The jury heard that Goldstein allowed Somma Foods to supply meals to nearly 2,000 schools dating back to 2015 despite issues with quality control due to high demand. Reports of hazardous objects like wire-like metal and blue plastic found in the chicken emerged between September 2016 and March 2017.
Prosecutors said that as complaints escalated in late 2016 leading to the temporary withdrawal of the food, the desperate owners of Somma Foods offered Goldstein bribes, including ownership of their side company, Range Meats, and an additional $66,000. The next day, the substandard food was allowed back into school menus.
In her arguments, Brooklyn federal prosecutor Laura Zuckerwise said, “Eric Goldstein was for sale” and “Michael Turley, Blaine Iler, and Brian Twomey, they bought him.”
Goldstein was also alleged to have received bribes sent to his divorce lawyer and his father, in addition to trips to Chile and Poland. Only in April 2017 did the Department of Education remove all of Somma’s products from schools due to repeated complaints.
Brooklyn attorney Breon Peace criticized the defendants’ conduct, emphasizing that the well-being of the students was compromised for personal gain.
He said, “Our children depended on nutritious meals served in schools and, instead, got substandard food products containing pieces of plastic, metal, and bones, which is unacceptable.”
The NYC public school system, the country’s largest, serves over a million students and receives $40 million in annual federal funding for meals.