Ex-director of food services at Hempstead schools pleads guilty to $120K kickback scheme

The former director of food services at the Hempstead Union Free School District admitted to receiving over $120,000 in kickbacks for securing vendor contracts.
Sharon Gardner, 57 of Lindenhurst, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services for her role in the scheme that went on between 2017 and 2019.
Prosecutors say she spent the money on international travel, home furnishings and a car.
Gardner and Maria Caliendo, owner of food service providers like Smart Starts NY Inc. and Prince Umberto's Restaurant in Franklin Square, were in charge of dealing with the $1.2 million in contracts.
"Doing things like this is really taking from our children," Caliendo said.
Gardner did read a statement to the judge and was crying as she admitted her guilt.
"It is an emotional setting - someone who has never had any prior involvement with the criminal justice system pled guilty to a judge - it's emotional and she has been remorseful," said Gardner's attorney, Edward Heilig Branigan.
Hempstead School Board President Randy Stith released a statement, saying in part: "The Board of Education took over the management of the Hempstead School District in 2017 and focused on eliminating waste, mismanagement and theft of honest services. This is the second of two investigations that resulted in convictions."
United States Attorney Breon Peace said his office will vigorously prosecute officials who illegally profit from public institutions.
Gardner will be sentenced on May 16 and remains out on bond.