The Fraud Examiner

Serving Up a Plate of Consequences: Lunch Ladies Steal Nearly $500K from School Cafeterias

Julia Johnson
Research Specialist, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners                                 

In an affluent Connecticut town, where the average home is priced at $1.5 million, two sisters shocked their community when it was discovered that they had been stealing cash totaling nearly half a million dollars from the registers of school cafeterias where they served as lunch ladies.

When they weren’t serving sandwiches to students at Saxe Middle School and New Canaan High School in New Canaan, Connecticut, sisters and coworkers Joanne Pascarelli and Marie Wilson operated a cash theft scheme. They are believed to have stolen $478,588 from the two schools from 2012 to 2017, although authorities suspect their fraud dates back even earlier.

Pascarelli and Wilson, in overseeing lunchroom operations at the two schools, told other cafeteria cashiers not to tally register totals at the end of their shifts, but to instead let them count and log the total funds collected from students for meals at the end of each school day. The lunch ladies would then help themselves to cash from the registers, underreport the total amount of daily sales and pocket the difference.

 Suspicions surrounding the fraud scheme arose after the administration at neighboring schools noticed financial inconsistencies with the cash-collection practices at the two cafeterias where Pascarelli and Wilson were employed. Investigators soon arrived and installed a point-of-sale software system in one of the schools that showed large discrepancies in the average daily deposits reported in the lunchroom where Pascarelli primarily worked. Saxe Middle School had average daily cafeteria deposits that ranged from $18 to $33 per day from 2013 to 2016. But after the newly installed software began to register and document actual cash intake, daily deposits increased to an average of $93 in 2017. Interestingly, in 2018, the same year that Pascarelli resigned from her position due to the mounting investigation against her, average daily deposits at the cafeteria increased to $183 per day.

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