I-Team discovers day cares overbill state, keeping your tax dollars


by Adam Walser


Posted on June 28, 2012 at 6:36 PM

Updated Monday, Jul 2 at 2:09 PM

(WHAS11) -- The Commonwealth of Kentucky and the federal government spend about $120 million a year subsidizing day care for low income parents in Kentucky.

That's an annual cost of more than $0 dollars per person.

But our I-Team discovered, through a recent tragedy, that not all of the money is going where it's supposed to.

And, instead, is ending up in the pockets of those violating the rules.

Our investigation started with a crash.

A van owned by Heavenly Angels Childcare Center plowed into a tree earlier in June, killing a monitor and injuring the driver and 14 children on board.

Ashley Brown's youngest daughter was the most seriously injured.

“The 8-month-old, she had emergency eye surgery. She has a broken nose. She was on a ventilator for about nine days,” Brown said.

Brown's 4-year-old also had a broken nose.

Her 1-year-old had a broken leg.

After the initial shock of the crash wore off, Brown became even more upset when WHAS11 shared with her the contents of hundreds of pages of investigative documents involving the day care we obtained from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services under the Kentucky Open Records Law.

Among the violations: a child left unattended in a hot van for hours, speeding by day care staff members, drivers who didn't have licenses and evidence that the van was regularly overloaded.

“I'm livid. Any parent would be, because I'm trusting you with my children. And you're doing all this,” Brown said.

But according to the state, Heavenly Angels had other big problems.

The day care and owner Lavonia Lewars over billed the state's child care assistance program repeatedly.

An Office of Inspector General report shows that in one month, Lewars billed the state for caring for 134 children at one of her day care locations, even though that facility only has a total capacity of 40.

The Office of Inspector General determined Lewars collected more than $222,000 more than she was entitled to during in an eight-month period.

She was ordered to pay it all back, but the state didn't make her.

Instead, the state gave her another chance, and kept sending $125,000 a month to Heavenly Angels.

Susan Vessels is Executive Director of Community Coordinated Child Care, or 4-C's.

That agency administers child care assistance to 1,500 day cares in the Louisville area.

When asked whether Heavenly Angels had ever had any consequences, Vessels replied, “There have been many attempts at that. No one has ever closed her down.”

The state investigation indicates that Heavenly Angels Childcare center signed up Somali families with lots of children.

They would then register those children for child care benefits and hire the parents.

That's because those parents had to prove to the state they had at least part-time jobs to qualify for subsidized child care.

“There have been as many as 50 percent, 60 percent of the parents who have children in that facility who supposedly work at that facility,” Vessels said.”If they have as many people working for them as they say are working for them, they have the best staff to child ratios ever seen. “

Heavenly Angels is not the only day care investigated for overbilling the state.

An Office of Inspector General report we obtained indicated that MCA Child Care on Poplar Level Road was overpaid $153,000 in 2011.

The owner of that facility denied any wrongdoing, but refused to comment.