Attorney for Lunch Lady: Schools’ Losses the Result of ‘Systemic Negligence’


The cafeteria at Saxe Middle School had “complicated revenue streams” and income that “went beyond traditional lunch lines,” according to an attorney for one of the women charged last month with felony larceny in connection with what authorities call the theft of nearly $500,000 from New Canaan Public Schools.

Snack lines at the school “generated significant amounts of income” and Joanne Pascarelli, though she oversaw the food program at Saxe, “wasn’t in charge of any of those revenue streams,” Stamford-based attorney Darnell Crosland told reporters following her first court appearance Tuesday morning.

In researching the case, Crosland said, his firm has learned that the school district had “systemic negligence.”

“The school as a result of its systemic negligence lost money, of which they made a negligence claim to the insurance company and the insurance company to our understanding reimbursed them every dime of that loss,” Crosland said.

His comments came minutes after Pascarelli, 61, of Norwalk, appeared before Judge Stephanie McLaughlin in state Superior Court in Norwalk. She and her sister, 67-year-old Marie Wilson of Wilton, formerly the assistant food director at New Canaan High School, were arrested by New Canaan Police on Aug. 11 and 12 and charged with first-degree larceny after what police described as years-long thefts of cash from registers in the school cafterias. 

Crosland and Wilson’s attorney, Stamford-based Mark Sherman, both said they intend to enter not guilty pleas on behalf of their clients. 

Neither woman said a word during brief appearances before McLaughlin, who officially transferred their cases to state Superior Court in Stamford. 

Wearing a white blouse, black trousers and flat black shoes and carrying a shoulder bag, Wilson stood by Sherman as he requested that media members not be allowed to videotape or photograph her during the hearing because “it might unfairly prejudice our client’s right to a fair trial”—a request that McLaughlin denied. (During the very short appearance, McLaughlin did disclose for the record that Wilson’s daughter had worked as a legal assistant at the law firm where the judge used to be employed.) 

Pascarelli, dressed in a black sleeveless shirt, pants and sandals, stood beside Crosland as he mentioned the possibility of a future application for “accelerated rehabilitation” or ‘AR’ for his client. A diversionary program for first-time offenders, AR is a form of parole that typically sees criminal charges dropped if an arrested person meets specific criteria, such as not re-offending for a period of time.

Crosland in addressing the press said it’s rare that a court would grant AR given the seriousness of the charge in this case. He’s asking the prosecution to drop the criminal charge outright.

“What we are asking the prosecution to do now is look at this case as simply a negligence case upon which they have foreseeable losses, and they insured against those losses, and the school system was reimbursed for those losses,” he said. “And we ask that Mrs. Pascarelli be given a chance to live in peace, with her pension, and so that she can move on with her life after 30 years of service.”

He referred to the length of Pascarelli’s employment with the district.

According to Crosland, in cases such as this, prosecutors generally bring an additional conspiracy charge, “and that didn’t happen here.”

“And I think that’s because there is no basis for conspiracy,” he said. “It’s simply a loss that the school suffered. There is no evidence that they worked in concert with each other.”

Referring to the state’s case, he said: “They are basically throwing stuff against the wall to see if it sticks.”

The news story of the sisters’ arrest made national news, and a reporter from a New York City tabloid was among those covering the women’s would-be arraignments Tuesday.

Asked how Pascarelli is faring, Crosland said she’s frustrated and eager to spend time with her grandchildren as this is “not what you expect” in her stage of life.

Sherman in speaking to reporters after the court appearance said Wilson is “hanging in there” and “looking forward to getting through the criminal court process.”

The women are to be arraigned Sept. 10 in Stamford.

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