Ex-school chief pleads guilty to looting lunch program

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CHICAGO (AP) — The former operator of a northern Illinois private school pleaded guilty Thursday to charges she looted hundreds of thousands of dollars from a school nutrition program to finance a luxurious lifestyle.

Pamela Strain, 63, founder of Beacon Hill Academy, which operated in Harvey and as Lighthouse Christian Academy in Lansing, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Chicago to fraud and failing to pay taxes on the ill-gotten gains.

The charges alleged that from 2009 to 2016, the schools received more than $4 million in federal funds to provide breakfast, lunch, fresh fruit and vegetables and childcare to the disadvantaged. During that period, Strain allegedly received $2 million in income. She reported $72,425, in income in her 2013 tax return, allegedly omitting about $466,000 in additional income.

FBI investigators found Strain was spending extravagantly at places such as Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, and at hair salons and auto shops, according to prosecutors.

Before entering a guilty plea during a telephonic hearing before U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo, Strain said she’s been taking prescription medications for depression and anxiety.

Bucklo set sentencing for Feb. 26.

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