- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Three Minneapolis day care centers that primarily serve poor children are charged with billing the state for more children than they serve, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Four people were arrested as part of an investigation into fraudulent billing of Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Program, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said. Two more arrests are likely, the Star Tribune (https://strib.mn/1PMpvxa ) reported.

“They cheated big and they got caught,” Freeman said of the day care operators, many of whom have relationships and overlapping employment or ownership at the targeted facilities.

Felony charges were filed against Minnesota Child Care Services, Children’s Choice Center and Ummah Child Care Services, all in Minneapolis, authorities announced at a news conference. Prosecutors also froze $219,000 in the day care centers’ bank accounts.

Freeman said the investigation is continuing and he expects a fourth day care center to be charged.

Representatives of the day cares could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The centers are accused of overbilling the state by claiming they cared for more children than were actually present.

For example, during a two-week period at the end of last year, Minnesota Child Care Services billed the state for 2,183 children, while a video revealed that no more than 1,233 children were actually attending - a difference of 950 children, the complaint said.

“We have individuals helping themselves to the money that’s supposed to be helping families and children,” said Jerry Kerber, inspector general for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the agency that first flagged unusually large billing amounts from Minnesota Child Care Services and asked the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to lead the investigation.

The charges filed in Hennepin County list the day cares as defendants, allowing prosecutors to freeze their assets and seize documents.

The assistance program, funded through state, federal and county taxes, aims to help low-income families by providing free and low-cost day care so their parents can work. For centers that take the poorer children, the program makes up the difference between the actual cost of care and what the parents can pay. Last year, the program provided $215 million to day cares throughout Minnesota.

For now, the day cares will remain open so families can get care for their children. Freeman and Kerber emphasized that the theft allegations involve employees of the centers, not parents.

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Information from: Star Tribune, https://www.startribune.com

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