Audit: Leader of Iowa school meals group embezzled for years

Markets Associated Press

The former executive director of an Iowa nonprofit that promotes healthy, affordable school meals is accused of embezzling at least $169,000 over a five-year period, according to an audit released Thursday.

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Norma LaMantia deposited hundreds of checks meant for the School Nutrition Association of Iowa into her personal bank accounts from 2011 to 2016, the investigation by State Auditor Mary Mosiman's office found.

The checks — which came from dozens of school districts and food companies to pay fees for association events — were diverted for LaMantia's personal expenses and to support her addiction to casino gambling, the report said.

LaMantia, 73, allegedly admitted to the embezzlement in an interview with auditors and a Davenport police detective last month, saying she had blown through her personal funds "and then I took some money from the association." At one point, she said she felt "so guilty" about what she'd done in 2014 that she paid back $10,650 but hid the reason for the repayment on financial documents, the report said.

As part of the scheme, LaMantia created bank accounts that appeared to be related to association business but were not known to board members, the report said. She then sent some money from those accounts to herself, falsely writing on the checks that they were to cover "rent," the audit said.

Scott County Attorney Mike Walton said Thursday his office is reviewing the report to determine "what the appropriate action is as far as criminal charges." First-degree theft, which applies to embezzlement over $10,000, carries up to 10 years in prison.

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LaMantia had been the association's executive director for a decade before resigning under pressure last year, after board members began to question her financial activities. LaMantia, who worked from her Davenport home, was paid about $19,000 annually under a contract that required her to work 20 hours per week.

The association, which has 950 members who are employed at school districts across Iowa, aims to "ensure children have access to healthy school meals" by providing education and training and setting standards for certification and credentialing. Its largest event is an annual conference, where food companies, equipment suppliers and other vendors rent exhibit space and districts pay registration fees for their employees.

A phone number listed for LaMantia rang busy. The association's new executive director, Nancy Hogstad, declined comment but noted the group's conference will be held as scheduled later this month in Des Moines.

Mosiman also released two other special investigation reports Thursday that documented alleged embezzlement. One found $83,000 was improperly spent or diverted by the former finance coordinator of the Substance Abuse Treatment Unit of Central Iowa in Marshalltown. The other found $91,000 in improper spending on personal credit cards by the former treasurer of the ambulance service in Anthony, a town of 565 in northwest Iowa.