An investigation of 15 New Jersey school districts finds 109 public sector workers and their family members allegedly lied about their incomes on applications for federal school lunch programs, so their children could receive free or reduced-cost student lunches at school.

NJ State Comptroller Matt Boxer (Photo by David Matthau, Townsquare Media)

State Comptroller Matt Boxer says this may just be the tip of the iceberg.

He confirms thousands of school board members, teachers and other local, county and state employees may be gaming the system so their children can get the free lunches in school districts all over New Jersey, in part because only three percent of the applications submitted to school districts are actually verified.

Boxer points out under requirements from the federal government, school districts are specifically prohibited from reviewing that other 97 percent, unless there is a specific cause to suspect fraud.

"So basically what that means at the end of the day is, as long as you lie big enough about your income to avoid being real close to the income limit, your application will go right through."

He adds another factor that plays a part in this is that the more children are signed up to receive school lunches, the greater the amount of aid the district receives from the state and the federal government - so if the system isn't changed, "we are risking school aid being administered based on amount of fraud rather than amount of need."

Boxer says his investigators did see evidence of districts holding events to encourage folks to sign up, including things like hosting a barbecue.

"School districts need to make sure those efforts are coupled with cautionary warnings, and instructions about how to fill out the form."

"It's disappointing that school board members were gaming the system like this. I mean these are people who are entrusted by the public, having been elected into the office -to then be using their insider information to scam the program is an outrage, frankly."

The individuals accused of providing false information on application forms may now face criminal charges, and jail time.