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Leonard Pickell Jr., 53; former chief of James Beard Foundation was convicted of stealing funds

June 19, 2007|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Leonard F. Pickell Jr., a former president of the James Beard Foundation who resigned from his position and was later found guilty of stealing more than $1 million from the organization, died June 13. He was 53.

Pickell died at his home in Howell, N.J., of embolisms in both lungs, according to news reports.

The foundation, housed in the Greenwich Village brownstone that was once Beard's home, is considered the country's leading promoter of gastronomy. It is perhaps best known for its annual award presentation honoring chefs, restaurant owners, food critics and others in the industry.

From the time Pickell became president of the foundation in 1995 he was known for his talent at fundraising and attracting high-profile companies as sponsors.

Then, in late 2004 the New York state attorney general opened an investigation after the foundation failed to file financial disclosure statements for three years.

An internal audit found that Pickell had misappropriated more than $1 million in foundation funds.

In January 2005 he pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny before the New York County Supreme Court. He admitted to writing Beard foundation checks for personal expenses, stealing money from the petty cash fund and making bogus reimbursement claims.

In June of that year he was sentenced to a one- to three-year prison term. He was released from jail in August 2006 after serving just over year.

Pickell was born in Norristown, Pa., and graduated from Temple University before he settled in New Jersey.

He joined the Beard Foundation in the late 1980s and impressed people there with his knowledge of wine and fine foods. As president, he turned down a salary but began to charge trips, tips and other expenses, which later came into question, to the foundation.

After he resigned, the Beard foundation's board members also resigned and a new board replaced them, Susan Ungaro, the foundation's current president, said this week. The foundation also began posting its financial information on its website as a result of the incident, she said.

Pickell is survived by his wife, Marlene, two daughters, his mother and two brothers.

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