Leonard Pickell Jr., former president of the James Beard Foundation, admitted in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan yesterday that he used the nonprofit culinary organization's money for personal use during his 10-year tenure.
Before Justice James Yates, Pickell pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree grand larceny and confessed to a number of violations, including writing foundation checks to cover his personal debts, stealing petty cash and forging receipts for expense reports.
Grand larceny is a Class C felony, and Pickell faces a minimum penalty of probation or a maximum of five years to 15 years in prison. Submission of a pre-sentencing memorandum is scheduled for March 23, at which point the judge will schedule the actual sentencing. The New York attorney general's office will ask for jail time for Pickell, said spokesman Brad Maione.
A related civil investigation is still underway.
In a message sent to Wine Spectator, Pickell wrote, "I pray that the great work of the Beard Foundation continues to promote all aspects of the culinary arts throughout the world. The trustees, staff and numerous volunteers have helped garner great respect for those in the culinary profession."
Pickell had resigned from the Beard Foundation last September when news of financial irregularities there became public. The board of trustees was then reconfigured and a new chairman and two vice chairmen were appointed.
In December, the foundation announced the results of an independent audit, which found at least $371,000 in unsubstantiated expenditures. Pickell was then arraigned on 14 charges of second-degree grand larceny and possession of forged documents. At that time, he pleaded innocent to the charges. A spokesman for the New York attorney general's office told The New York Times that investigators found that Pickell had spent as much as $38,000 of the foundation's money on wine.
Later in December, the 11-member board of trustees agreed to resign on Jan. 6 to make room for a new board made up of food industry professionals, journalists and three members of the existing board, the Times reported. But the board temporarily delayed the shift because of a potential conflict of interest for some of the new trustees, who would be in charge of the annual James Beard Awards, for which they could be eligible.
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