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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The once-lauded leader of efforts to bring healthier meals to more than 600,000 Los Angeles school children was charged Tuesday with embezzlement, perjury and misuse of public funds.
David Binkle, 55, former food services director at the nation's second-largest school district, pleaded not guilty in Los Angeles Superior Court to 15 felony counts and was released on $220,000 bail.
Binkle funneled $65,000 from the Los Angeles Unified School District to a chefs' club he ran and to his own bank account between 2010 and 2014, prosecutors said.
He was accused of conflict of interest for awarding contracts to organizations he was connected to and failing to disclose income from a private consulting business. He was also charged with forgery for putting someone else's signature on an application to be a district vendor.
Binkle, who helped reduce fat, sugar and salt in school lunches and touted his successes at a White House event with former first lady Michelle Obama, resigned from the district two years ago after a scathing audit found inappropriate spending and mismanagement.
The professional chef denied wrongdoing after being suspended by the district in 2014 while under investigation for business conflicts. He was allowed to continue drawing his $152,000 annual salary while being investigated.
At the time, he told the Los Angeles Times that he was "deeply disheartened, frustrated and baffled" by his removal.
"I have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide since my actions were approved and encouraged from senior district officials, general counsel or the ethics office," he wrote in an email. "I am confident the truth and facts will show the allegations are unsubstantiated."
Efforts to reach Binkle were unsuccessful, and a lawyer who represented him at arraignment wouldn't comment.
The Chefs de Cuisine Association of California, which allegedly received some of the money Binkle took, said it was cooperating with law enforcement but declined to comment about its former leader.
If convicted of all charges, Binkle could face more than 13 years in state prison. He was ordered to return to court Oct. 5.
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