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Post date: December 14 2004

Former President Of Beard Foundation Indicted

Attorney General Spitzer and State Police Superintendent Wayne Bennett said today that the former president of one of the nation's leading culinary institutions has been indicted for grand larceny and related charges.

The indictment charges Leonard F. Pickell Jr. with stealing at least $50,000 from the James Beard Foundation in Manhattan. Specifically, Pickell is accused of writing foundation checks to cover personal credit card debts, taking cash from the foundation's petty cash fund and forging documents used to claim reimbursement from the foundation.

Pickell was arraigned today before Justice James Yates of the New York County Supreme Court, after having been arrested in New Jersey last Friday, December 10 pursuant to an arrest warrant. He was charged with Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class C felony, and 13 counts of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree. The maximum permissible sentence for a conviction of the top count, a class C felony, is five to 15 years in state prison. Judge Yates set bail at $800,000.

The indictment is the result of an investigation that began in July into the finances at the James Beard Foundation, which was established in 1985 to honor the memory of James Beard, a highly regarded chef and author of cookbooks who founded his own cooking school in New York.

The Beard Foundation, which is registered as a non-profit corporation in New York, is "dedicated to the practice and appreciation of culinary arts." The foundation sponsors forums on food, wine and hospitality, and offers scholarships to students of culinary arts.

The Attorney General's Charities Bureau is continuing a civil investigation into the finances of the foundation.

The criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Johanna Sullivan under the direction of Deputy Chief Kevin Suttlehan and Bureau Chief Janet Cohn of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau. The case was investigated by New York State Police Investigator Eric Castellar, under the supervision of Senior Supervising Investigator Eliezer Roman, and Forensic Accountant/Investigator Lester Dier of the Investigations Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Chief Investigator Hank Lemons.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.