School Employee Charged with Stealing Lunch Money
By Gan Matthews, NEWS 9
ANADARKO, Oklahoma -- A cafeteria worker at Anadarko Public Schools has been charged with embezzling money from the school's lunch money fund.
Prosecutors have charged 27-year-old Tricia Nicole Bunnell of Chickasha with diverting funds intended to pay for school meals to her own use.
At the end of the last school year, the Food Service director of Anadarko schools asked police to investigate missing funds in the cafeteria program at Sunset Elementary School.
Bunnell was responsible for collecting lunch money at the school and kept a tally of the meals the government reimburses.
"She would never mark off that the school children ever had lunch or breakfast or whatever meal it may have been. And so it was as if a much smaller number of children were eating than actually were," said Assistant District Attorney Tyler Lowe.
According to court documents, Bunnell allegedly pocketed $842 in lunch money and cost the school more than $1,500 in lost reimbursements.
School officials said the cafeteria would occasionally run out of food because the staff cut back on the number of meals in order to match bookkeeping records.
School officials are now taking measures to ensure something like this does not happen again.
"We are doing OSBI checks on all of our employees that we hire from now on in the cafeteria. We do that with substitutes and other people in our system, but we haven't done that with cafeteria in the past. But we'll start doing that now," School Superintendent Tom Cantrell said.
For many students, paying lunch lady Bunnell was their first experience with a commercial transaction.
"Their first entry or foray into that endeavor, the other side's stealing from them, and I think that is what makes this particular case somewhat more egregious than a lot of others," Lowe said.
A plea bargain may be in the works. If that happens, prosecutors will insist that Bunnell pays back all the lunch money she took.
Bunnell is currently serving a one-year deferred sentence for writing bad checks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.