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Beard Foundation ex-president indicted

The ex-president of the James Beard Foundation, a culinary center in New York, was arraigned on Monday on charges of stealing sizeable amounts of its funds for his use.

Leonard F Pickell Jr. pleaded not guilty to an indictment accusing him of second-degree grand larceny – stealing a minimum of US$50,000 – and criminal possession of forged expense receipts. The New York Times reported that the state attorney general’s office said he might be charged with first-degree grand larceny: stealing at least $1 million.

The Times reported that prosecutors said Pickell had written checks on foundation accounts to cover personal credit card debt, had taken money from petty cash and had falsified expense reimbursements.

After questions about the foundation’s murky finances last summer led to a probe, Pickell took leave. He resigned after an audit indicated a misuse of several hundred thousand dollars.

Pickell’s lawyer denied he had committed crimes. As president, Pickell was not paid, and foundation dollars were needed to entertain chefs, winemakers and corporate sponsors, his lawyer said. The attorney general’s office said Pickell had spent perhaps US$38,000 on wine for personal use or in his role as a restaurant and business consultant.

A nonprofit foundation based in the home of the late chef and author James Beard, the organization is ‘dedicated to the practice and appreciation of culinary arts.’ The American culinary world covets its annual awards but has been troubled by questions about how the foundation spends the huge sums it raises at dinners and awards.

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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