In the Cards

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When something is said to be “in the cards,” it means that it’s very likely to happen. Two sisters from Opelika, Alabama, who owned multiple day care centers, thought it was “in the cards” for them to get rich from a child care fraud scheme they masterminded. You don’t have to be a psychic to know that their luck ran out when their scam, which allegedly involved stealing more than $600,000 from Alabama’s subsidized child care program, was discovered.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources’ (DHR) Office of Child Care Subsidy administers a child care program that assists low and moderate-income families with access to affordable and quality child care services. (Parents must participate in work, educational or training activities and meet the allowable income requirements to qualify for the assistance.) Once families are approved for the program, parents receive a credit card that is swiped when their children are dropped off at their daycare center. This notifies the DHR that the child is in attendance. Allotted funds are then deposited into the daycare bank account for that child.

The two sisters, who each owned two child care centers, took advantage of this Alabama child care subsidy program to make extra cash for themselves. An investigation was opened in 2017 and subsequently, the four daycare centers were searched by local law enforcement agencies. After the search warrants were executed, investigators found more than 100 DHR cards that the daycare centers collectively used to swipe for deposits into their business bank accounts. The two daycare center operators purportedly swiped cards for children who were not in attendance or for children who did attend, but parents had no idea that their child’s name had been used to obtain a DHR card. (So, cards were also being used to siphon money from a government program intended to help vulnerable citizens, not people who were able to pay their daycare bill without government support.)

One of the sisters is charged with 11 counts of public assistance fraud and one count of first-degree theft of property. The amount of money associated with her charges is $542,242.90. The other sister is charged with 10 counts of public assistance fraud and one count of first-degree theft of property. Her charges are associated with $119,765.95. If the siblings are convicted, they could serve from one year and a day to a decade behind bars for committing child care fraud.

Ironically, the Opelika, Alabama child care fraud scam was literally “in the cards,” meaning the DHR cards that provided funds for parents who could not otherwise afford to put their kids in a daycare center. Apparently, it was the 15 or 20 swipes that occurred over several minutes that alerted DHR that something was not right. (While these two women are innocent until proven guilty, my crystal ball predicts that they’ll have to answer to their child care fraud charges.)

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, “Opelika daycare owners charged with public assistance fraud,” posted on oanow.com on February 21, 2019.

Two Opelika daycare owners were arrested Thursday and charged with defrauding more than $600,000 from a public assistance program, according to the Lee County District Attorney’s Office.

Sisters Cynthia Jones and Carolyn Wilkerson were identified during a news conference Thursday afternoon at the Lee County Justice Center as the daycare owners who are charged in a child care subsidies fraud investigation. Jones and Wilkerson each own two daycares in Opelika.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.