Lunch Lady’s Attorney: Former Food Services Director ‘May Have Been Involved in a Fraud’

An attorney for one of the former New Canaan lunch ladies accused of stealing a total of nearly $500,000 in cash from school cafeterias said Monday that he’s “optimistic” regarding his client’s case and also interested to find out what role was played by a man who used to oversee food services for the district.

Joanne Pascarelli (L) and Marie Wilson (R) exiting the Stamford Courthouse on Sept. 10, 2018. Credit: Michael Dinan

Stamford-based attorney Darnell Crosland told reporters that he has made an official request for discovery, in part to find out whether there’s evidence exonerating his client, Joanne Pascarelli, and also made an inquiry into Bruce Gluck, former head of food services for New Canaan Public Schools.

“There is evidence that he may have been involved in a fraud, but it’s outside of the statute of limitations,” Crosland said at Stamford Courthouse after Pascarelli appeared before Judge Gary White. She and her sister, Marie Wilson, were arrested last month by New Canaan Police and charged with first-degree larceny following a monthslong investigation prompted by a complaint from the school district. 

Joanne Pascarelli. Photo courtesy of the New Canaan Police Department

“The idea here is that there’s $500,000 that’s alleged they have taken,” Crosland said. “And there’s an old adage, ‘Follow the money.’ And when you look at these individuals, there’s no cookie crumbs leading us to any money here, at all. What we do know is there’s a computer system that shows that the school was making X amount and that a new system showed that they’re making a different amount. … If the new system processes the people in the lunch line quicker, they obviously are going to make more money. And if the old system wasn’t processing people quick enough, they are obviously going to make less money. So it’s like anything that makes things more efficient, you are going to see more profitability. So all we have is a case where there’s no tangible evidence that they took any money. Just systemically speaking or based on technology they are able to process more meals, make more money.”

He added: “A couple of witnesses say they may have seen them take cash. They don’t give time, place or manner. And they definitely haven’t seen them take $500,000 worth. So that’s all circumspect.”

Marie Wilson. Photo courtesy of the New Canaan Police Department

Pascarelli and Wilson are accused of stealing the money over a period of years, including by removing large bills from cash registers. It isn’t clear whether they also depleted parents’ funds by overcharging on accounts, district officials have said.

First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said during a press briefing in his office last week that he’s received 14 phone calls from parents “who are convinced that they were overcharged over the years.”

“Two lunches, four drinks,” Moynihan said, referring to what parents claim to have been charged for a single child at one meal. “So in order to keep the revenues up, they [the sisters] were overcharging the meal ticket kids and stealing the cash.”

“A lot of parents say, ‘I have always complained about it,’ ” he added. “ ‘My kids were overcharged, I would always complain why are you having two lunches, why are you having two drinks?’ I have to believe that it’s true.”

(Noting that the school district has been reimbursed $500,000 by its insurer, Moynihan added that the town is on the same policy and “that’s probably going to mean our rates are going up in the future, both for the town and Board of Ed, so I would like to have half of that money.”)

Gluck in a lawsuit filed in January 2015 was accused of screaming, cursing, throwing objects and otherwise intimidating and degrading women he oversees. The school district sought to have the civil case dismissed, but was denied. 

Wilson, after initially denying all allegations, in a second interview with police in April appears to have referred to Gluck, saying that since 2006 he would demand $100 every day from the registers after lunch was over, telling Wilson that it was petty cash or similar uses. If ever there was more money in a drawer at the end of lunch, those funds similarly would be designated for random uses, Wilson said, such as purchasing supplies, according to court documents. Wilson said that she was “pissed” at the man “when he bought an expensive camera that he said he bought for the food service area but she never saw it again,” according to a police affidavit. (Police did investigate the accusation from Wilson, connecting in April with the man’s attorney, who stated that his client did not handle cash at all while employed at the schools.)

Yet, according to Crosland, Gluck may have played a central role and that even if the statute of limitations on charging Gluck has expired, evidence connected to the former food services director may exonerate his client.

“If he was harassing women, particularly, and berating women particularly, to the tune that he was sued civilly, to the point where he was sued civilly, one could imagine that maybe he was running an enterprise that involved stealing money, and the reason he was so upset and so hyper with all these women was that things weren’t going his way,” Crosland said. “And that’s fodder for thought. Why else would he be berating women on a daily basis, commanding that these things be done?”

Each wearing all black, Wilson and Pascarelli stood wordlessly by their attorneys during brief appearances before White. Crosland already has entered a not guilty plea on behalf of Pascarelli. Wilson’s attorneys, from Mark Sherman Law of Stamford, have not yet entered a plea on her behalf. Attorney Christine Landis said during brief remarks to reporters, “At this point we are anticipating receiving additional documentation from the state.”

On exiting the courthouse in the rain, the two women tried to shield their faces from the press while reporters said, “Ladies, why did you steal the money? Lunch ladies, why did you steal the money?”

They’re scheduled to appear again Oct. 24. 

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