Missing lunch money probe grows, may top $3 million, police say

<i>This post has been corrected. See the notes below for details.</i>

Usually it’s the school bully who steals lunch money from the kids.

But in Rialto, it’s allegedly the accountant hired to keep an eye on the lunch money.

When accountant Judith Oakes was arrested on suspicion of embezzling from the school district’s nutrition services department this summer -- allegedly caught on surveillance tape stuffing cash in her bra -- officials said they were staggered when they were told that as much as $3.16 million might be missing.

Oakes faces the prospect of embezzlement and grand theft charges, but the fallout from the lunch money episode could extend further as law enforcement agencies and the state Department of Education are investigating why the loss was not spotted sooner.

An investigative firm hired by the Rialto Unified School District has so far found a “documented loss of at least $1,8 million but warned it could reach as high as $3.16 million, including discrepancies that could not be documented. School records go back to 2005.


The district’s superintendent and his deputy have been placed on leave by the school board.

“That is money that should have been going to students,” said school board Vice President Edgar Montes.

Oakes, 49, resigned the day after her arrest Aug. 7 on suspicion of embezzlement and grand theft.

A mother of three, Oakes earned $60,000 in her accounting job. Her late husband was a well-respected school principal in San Bernardino.

Rialto Police Capt. Randy De Anda said Oakes, who had worked for the district 16 years, kept tabs on lunch money for 29 district schools.

“She had unfettered access to enormous sums of money over the years -- much of it in cash,” De Anda said.

“The lunch money can really add up,” he said.

[For the Record, 7:49 p.m. PDT Oct. 4: An earlier version of this post reported that Oakes had been charged. She has been arrested but not charged.]

[For the Record, 9:29 a.m. PDT Oct. 6: An earlier version of this post said Oakes’ late husband had been a school prinicipal in Rialto. He was a principal in San Bernardino.]


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