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David Binkle, the food services director at the Los Angeles Unified School District, has been removed from his position pending an internal investigation into alleged conflicts of interest and mismanagement of the nation’s second-largest school meal system.

His removal came Friday even though LAUSD has won national acclaim in the past five years — including praise from first lady Michelle Obama — for its initiatives to transform school food from fatty meals to more healthful fare.

Binkle, 52, is accused by the Office of the Inspector General of failing to report payments from vendors to attend school food conferences and of ownership interests in a private food-related consulting firm, the Los Angeles Times reported. He is also accused of mismanaging the district’s $500,000 annual marketing program, which was launched in 2011 as part of a revamped food contracting system, according to The Times. The program is funded by five major food contractors to promote healthful eating.

“We found that the program is currently at a minimum being mismanaged and at worst being consistently abused” by Binkle and the food services division, said the inspector general’s draft audit, which was obtained by The Times.

Binkle denied wrongdoing, saying in an email to The Times that he was “deeply disheartened, frustrated and baffled” by his removal Dec. 4. He has been ordered to remain at home while continuing to draw his $152,000 annual salary.

“I have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide since my actions were approved and encouraged from senior district officials, general counsel or the ethics office,” he wrote. “I am confident the truth and facts will show the allegations are unsubstantiated.”

L.A. Unified’s $354 million food program serves 716,000 meals daily to 615,000 students at 1,200 locations.

—City News Service

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