|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that former Elizabeth Board of Education member Juan Donoso, Board Attorney Kirk Nelson, and outside board counsel Frank Capece were indicted today by a state grand jury on charges that they covered up a false application filed by Donoso’s wife for the federally funded free lunch program.
Donoso, 42, of Elizabeth, was charged in a five-count indictment with two counts of official misconduct (2nd degree) and one count each of tampering with public records or information (3rd degree), tampering with or fabricating physical evidence (4th degree), and hindering apprehension or prosecution (4th degree). Nelson, 46, of Roselle, and Capece, 63, of Cranford, were named in a separate six-count indictment charging each of them with two counts of official misconduct (2nd degree) and one count each of conspiracy (2nd degree), tampering with public records or information (3rd degree), tampering with or fabricating physical evidence (4th degree), and hindering apprehension or prosecution (4th degree). The indictments are the result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police.
It is alleged that, at Donoso’s request, Nelson and Capece obstructed a state investigation into abuse of the school lunch program by covering up a false application filed by Donoso’s wife. After the State Police served a subpoena on the school district through Nelson demanding all applications for the free lunch program going back to 2004, Nelson and Capece allegedly directed that the wife’s application be removed from district records, so that it was not turned over in response to the subpoena. Donoso’s wife, Olga Oviedo-Arevalo, was charged by complaint in April with filing several false applications, but she was admitted into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program in August. Her charges will be dismissed if she successfully completes PTI. She paid restitution of $1,700 as a condition of enrollment in PTI.
“We allege that these defendants corruptly used their authority within the school district to try to sweep this matter under the rug,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “We simply will not tolerate such a blatant disregard for the law.”
“These two attorneys allegedly did Donoso’s bidding by deliberately thwarting a State Police subpoena that would have uncovered his wife’s false application for the free lunch program,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Rather than fulfilling their obligation as lawyers to uphold the law, Nelson and Capece allegedly obstructed a criminal investigation to satisfy their client. All three men rightfully face serious charges.”
Deputy Attorney General Michael Monahan presented the case to the grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. The investigation into the alleged cover-up was conducted by Detective Sgt. 1st Class Lisa King of the State Police Official Corruption North Unit and Deputy Attorneys General Veronica Allende and Mark Ondris of the Division of Criminal Justice.
Oviedo-Arevalo filed false applications for the district’s federally funded free or reduced lunch program for her son for three school years, 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11, listing only income of $13,000 ($250 per week) for herself and no income for Donoso, when in fact they had a household income of more than $50,000 for each of those years. As a result of those applications, the son allegedly received approximately $1,700 in free lunches. In addition, Oviedo-Arevalo filed a false application for the 2011-2012 school year for her son and daughter that listed only a fraction of the income Donoso earned. This is the application that was the subject of the alleged cover-up.
After the Star-Ledger published an article in August 2011 about former Elizabeth Board of Education President Marie L. Munn and others in the district allegedly filing false free school lunch applications – allegations which led to Munn and others being charged by the Division of Criminal Justice – Donoso allegedly approached Capece and Nelson to say that his wife had not accurately filled out their school lunch application for the 2011-12 school year and they wanted to pay for their children’s lunches. He allegedly told the two attorneys that he wanted them to fix it so he would not end up like Munn.
In response to Donoso and after a subpoena was served by the State Police upon the Board of Education in August 2011 for all school lunch applications filed from 2004 through 2011, Capece and Nelson allegedly arranged for the Donoso/Oviedo-Arevalo 2011-2012 application to be pulled from the district’s official records. As a result, the application was not turned over to the Division of Criminal Justice when the Board of Education responded to the subpoena. Afterward, Capece and Nelson allegedly arranged for the application to be put back into district files. The couple’s children were also switched from free to paid status in the computer system for the National School Lunch Program.
The second-degree charges of official misconduct and conspiracy carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Donoso and Nelson each face a count of official misconduct that carries a mandatory minimum term of five years of parole ineligibility. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000, while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Thomas W. Sumners Jr. in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Union County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear at a later date for arraignment. The indictment is posted with this release at www.njpublicsafety.com.
Munn, 48, of Elizabeth, the former president of the Elizabeth Board of Education, was indicted on May 30, 2012 by a state grand jury on third-degree charges of theft by deception and tampering with public records or information. Munn allegedly filed false applications for her two children for the district’s free and reduced-price lunch program, which resulted in one or both children receiving benefits to which they were not entitled in each of the five consecutive school years 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11. As a result of the applications, her children allegedly received $4,549 in benefits to which they were not entitled. Munn allegedly grossly understated her household income to obtain the benefits for her children. Her and her husband’s annual incomes exceeded the federal household income limit for the program by as much as $100,000 in 2008-09, and by $94,000 or more in three of the other years. The charges against Munn are pending and she is presumed innocent until proven guilty.