Gun, ammo, drugs found at day careMilwaukee police this week found a loaded handgun, ammunition and marijuana at a day care center suspected of falsifying records to rake in state childcare subsidies, according to court documents.
By: By John Diedrich, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Superior Telegram
Milwaukee police this week found a loaded handgun, ammunition and marijuana at a day care center suspected of falsifying records to rake in state childcare subsidies, according to court documents.
Results of the police search are the latest evidence of a state-subsidized childcare system beset by corruption and other criminal behavior.
On Wednesday, Milwaukee detectives searched Zelda's Love & Happiness Child Care, seizing two computers, business documents, a loaded Sig Sauer handgun, a loaded ammunition magazine for a pistol and 2 1/2 grams of marijuana, according to a just released search warrant. Documents do not indicate if anyone was in the center when the search was done.
Zelda T. Jackson, 38, operator of the center in the 2900 block of N. 59th St., said Friday that her operation has been closed since September, when the state suspended her subsidies. She said the gun and drugs are not hers and she has committed no crime.
"There has not been any fraud," she said.
Jackson said she has appealed the state suspension and is awaiting a decision. She declined further comment.
Zelda Jackson operates two centers with slightly different names -- the one that was searched, and another in the 3300 block of N. 20th St.
Jackson received nearly $1 million in state child care funds for both of her centers from 2007 until August, according to records. Her last monthly check was for about $46,000, according to the state Department of Children and Families.
The state also reported that 42 of the 48 children authorized for state payments at the two centers belonged to employees of the centers. Such an arrangement is a red flag that providers could be scamming the system, according to police and prosecutors. Under a new state law, no more than 40% of children enrolled can belong to employees.
Early last year, state regulators referred Zelda's to a law enforcement task force examining fraud in the program, said Erika Monroe-Kane, communications director for the state Department of Children and Families, which administers the Wisconsin Shares child care program.
State licensing specialist Jennifer Sabree told police she had visited the Zelda's centers several times and never found more than four children present, according to a police affidavit filed in support of this week's search. In addition, state employees had stopped at the center to find it empty once in April, three times in May and once in September.
Regulators suspended Jackson's payments in late September.
According to the affidavit, police detective Mitchell Ward interviewed two Zelda's employees, Daffiny Bonman and Marlena McDaniels, who each brought their children to the center.
Both said they worked a fraction of the hours reported by Jackson. For instance, McDaniels said she was at the center with her four children for an hour or two a day. But McDaniels said she was paid for working 72 hours every two weeks, and Jackson was billing the Shares program for full-time care on the four children, according to records.
Zelda's is not the only day care that police searched this month.
On Jan. 15, FBI agents and Milwaukee police spent more than six hours poring through records at Kiddie Springs child care center, operated by Latasha Jackson. She has not been charged, but officials said the investigation continues.
The Journal Sentinel wrote about Latasha Jackson in August, exposing how she reaped nearly $3 million from the Wisconsin Shares program -- and bought a Jaguar convertible and built a mansion with an indoor swimming pool and indoor basketball court -- while, for 10 years, regulators ignored red flags indicating she was scamming the system. It was part of a yearlong investigation by the paper exposing fraud and other problems in the system.
In the case of Zelda's, Milwaukee police detective Sebastian Raclaw said his investigation shows evidence of theft by fraud, according to the affidavit.
"Based upon interviews and observations. . . ," Raclaw wrote, "no regularly attending children attend the center during the second and third shift hours compared to what is being reported by the center."
Jackson had told the state her centers would reopen -- without state-subsidized customers -- this past week, the detective wrote. Zelda Jackson said Friday she now hopes to reopen next month.
The affidavit does not say where the loaded gun, drugs and ammunition magazine were found. The state prosecutor handling child care fraud cases did not return a call for comment.
The Journal Sentinel's investigation into child care center corruption identified hundreds of criminals working in the child care business, including a woman who had repeatedly beaten a girl with an electrical cord.
Then late last year, the newspaper uncovered more than a dozen drug dealers, including some of Milwaukee's biggest crime bosses, who had ties to child care centers.
In the wake of the series, prosecutors have filed criminal charges against several providers. Legislators passed a handful of new laws aimed at cleaning up the program. Several government workers lost their jobs, and state regulators cut public funding to about 130 providers suspected of stealing from the program.
Raquel Rutledge contributed to this report.
Copyright (c) 2010, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services