Police say western Pa. man listed his dog as a dependent in reduced-price school lunch scam

The former manager of a school district's cafeteria service listed his dog as a dependent so he could get discounted school lunches for his children, state police said.

The state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation's organized crime division announced theft charges Thursday against Gabriel Paulick.

Paulick worked for Nutrition Inc. when he managed the Ringgold School District cafeteria system, about 15 miles south of Pittsburgh, police said. He not only got reduced-price lunches worth more than $1,700 for his children, he also helped district employees fudge their applications to get more than $9,000 worth of free or reduced-price lunches, police said.

Capt. Bret Waggoner, who heads the organized crime unit, said his troopers have investigated school lunch frauds before but never one in which someone tried to pass off a dog as a family member.

"No, I've never encountered that," Waggoner said.

Ringgold Superintendent Gary J. Hamilton called the case "very upsetting, very disturbing."

About 40 percent of the district's 3,100 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, Hamilton said. Their parents fill out applications that take into account their income and family size in determining whether they qualify for the aid, he said.

"A lot of people need what they need, and we encourage our citizens to apply, you know, because people are losing their jobs," Hamilton said. "When people are making a mockery out of it, it doesn't sit well with me or the community."

Police said the thefts occurred from August 2007 until November, when they were brought to the attention of the school district. Hamilton said he conducted an internal investigation and had an audit performed and turned the results over to the Washington County district attorney and the state police.

Paulick, of New Eagle, did not answer calls to his home telephone Thursday.

Hamilton said Paulick, 36, no longer works for Nutrition Inc., of West Newton, where a company spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment.

Hamilton said he couldn't specify how many other cafeteria workers cheated the district on the advice of Paulick. But he said that those workers were employed by the district, not the food service company, and that some resigned.

Some employees have already repaid the district, but the question of Paulick's restitution remains to be determined by the outcome of his criminal case, Hamilton said.