School Official Convicted After Metal-Tainted Chicken Was Served To Students

It's easy to joke about the poor quality of cafeteria food, but it became genuinely dangerous at New York City public schools when students and staff started to find metal, bone, and plastic debris inside their chicken tenders in 2016. This month, school official Eric Goldstein was convicted on a bribery charge connected to the providers of the contaminated chicken, per The New York Times.

Chickentopia tenders, supplied by Somma Food Group, were introduced in March of 2016 to the schools and, according to PR Newswire, claimed to be made from antibiotic-free and vegetable-fed chicken. At the time, Somma's VP of Marketing, Gary Hamm, said, "We are excited to become the first supplier to serve 100% antibiotic-free chicken to New York City schools. While students may only see it as great tasting chicken, their parents realize that the administration of New York City Schools cares deeply about the health and wellbeing of their children."

However, not long after their introduction, the tenders were pulled from cafeterias after an employee choked on a bone in the allegedly boneless product, requiring the Heimlich maneuver to be saved. But, the chicken only faced temporary detention. According to ABC News, the unchanged tenders — still chock full of choking hazards — were back in schools two months later. New York's school food and nutrition services, or SchoolFood, nixed Somma products in the spring of 2017, but many wondered how Chickentopia products ended up back in New York schools in the first place.

Prosecutors claim Eric Goldstein received bribes to keep tainted chicken in schools

Eric Goldstein ran SchoolFood until 2018 and introduced a range of Somma Food Group products to New York lunchrooms during the later years of his tenure. However, behind the scenes, prosecutors argued that Goldstein was in cahoots with Somma and partnered with them to form a grass-fed beef company that also served as a front for receiving bribes, per Fortune. The trial that found Goldstein and the Somma owners guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud, and bribery charges revealed an array of email evidence and correspondence that laid bare the corrupt nature of exchanges between the two parties.

In one particularly incriminating case of bribery, the Somma Chickentopia products returned to school lunchrooms just one day after Goldstein successfully solicited a bribe of $66,670 from the company. Other instances saw the owners of Somma paying Goldstein's divorce lawyer and father to expedite the arrival of their products in school cafeterias. According to NY Daily News, additional evidence shown in court included photographic documentation of the chicken products unfit for consumption, including a drumstick oozing a red liquid. 

According to a press release from the United States Attorney's Office, the verdict was described by Attorney Breon Peace as demonstrating "the consequences of corruptly placing personal profit over the public interests." 

The bribery charge could mean up to 20 years in prison for Goldstein. At the time of writing, a sentencing date hasn't been set.