Fired NYC education boss nicknamed Roger Rabbit is arrested for taking bribes from food company

A former executive with New York’s Department of Education – who went by the secret alias Roger Rabbit – abused his position by accepting bribes in exchange for lucrative food supply contracts, a court document says.

Eric Goldstein, who managed the department’s SchoolFood budget, is accused of accepting pays offs from a company even after it was exposed for selling chicken tenders containing bones, metal, and plastic to public schools.

He accepted ‘thousands of dollars in bribes’, believed to total close to $80,000, from Blaine Iler, Michael Turley and Brian Twomey in exchange for granting their food service’s company sought-after food contracts to New York’s schools.

Prosecutors say $7,000 of that cash went on a divorce lawyer, with another $3,000 transferred to one of Goldstein’s friends.  

All four men were charged today with conspiring to commit extortion under color of official right and solicitation and giving of bribes relating to programs receiving federal funds.

Iler, Turley, and Twomey secretly referred to Goldstein – who oversaw SchoolFood’s budget and management – as Roger Rabbit to shield his true identity in correspondences, court documents showed.

A court filing unsealed Monday does not name the company Goldstein allegedly received kickbacks from, but Twomey is founder and managing director of the Somma Food Group, where Iler is listed as chief operating officer.

Former New York Department of Education executive Eric Goldstein allegedly accepted bribes 

Somma’s chicken tenders were pulled New York City’s public school lunch menus in 2016 after bones and blue plastic were found inside.

The Department of Education ordered the tenders already at school cafeterias to be destroyed after receiving seven complaints, but after sending them to a facility where they were X-rayed, they were reportedly cleared for use and resent to schools.

The following year, a student found a metal fragment in a piece of chicken supplied by Somma.

Goldstein was fired by the state's DOE chancellor in 2018 after receiving complaints about poor performance. The DOE is housed in the state's education building (pictured above)

Goldstein was fired by the state’s DOE chancellor in 2018 after receiving complaints about poor performance. The DOE is housed in the state’s education building (pictured above)

About the same time Somma was founded in 2015, Goldstein, Iler, Turley, Twomey and another man formed Range Meats Supply Company LLC, which bought beef from international suppliers and sold it to schools and other retailers.

Goldstein had a 20 percent stake in the company, but used clever accounting practices to cover-up his involvement, prosecutors say. 

When SchoolFood temporarily stopped serving Somma’s chicken tenders after a school employee choked on a bone in October 2016, Goldstein had final approval on whether they’d be allowed to be brought back to schools.

Prosecutors said he delayed reintroducing them until his co-conspirators transferred Somma’s ownership stake in Range Meats to him. He also instructed them to transfer $66,670 to a Range Meats bank account that he owned and controlled.

In November, Goldstein approved the reintroduction of Somma’s chicken strips into New York’s schools.

Somma Food's chief operating officer Blaine Iler allegedly worked with Goldstein to secure contracts

Somma Foods co-founder Brian Twomey allegedly paid Goldstein thousands of dollars in bribes

Blaine Iler (left) and Brian Twomey (right) were charged with conspiring to commit extortion and solicitation and giving of bribes relating to programs receiving federal funds

Goldstein in other instances used his position with SchoolFood to ensure it would acquire food promoted and sold by Somma, prosecutors said.

In exchange, Somma’s executives transferred ‘tens of thousands of dollars’ to Range Meats for Goldstein’s benefit.

Prosecutors said one $7,000 bribe went toward Goldstein’s personal divorce lawyer, while another $3,000 was wired to his close relative.

An FBI document (pictured above) shows how co-conspirators called Goldstein 'Roger Rabbit'

An FBI document (pictured above) shows how co-conspirators called Goldstein ‘Roger Rabbit’

‘As alleged, Goldstein used his position within the DOE to help promote a business in which he had a financial interest, which is not only illegal, but also doesn’t allow for a fair bidding process between competing interests,’ said FBI assistant director-in-charge Michael Driscoll.

‘As a result of this scheme, Goldstein – and his coconspirators – learned a lesson of their own today in what not to do with taxpayer money.’

Goldstein was fired by the state’s Department of Education chancellor in 2018 after receiving complaints about repeated poor performance. 

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