10 Investigates: Tax Funded Daycares Questioned, State Withholds Data
In a north Columbus neighborhood, a half-vacant building complex faces a parking lot with late model cars and mini vans. The sounds of tiny feet and young voices come and go. Perched above them is a brightly colored billboard with an image of children dotting the globe. Inside is a daycare where managers bill the state millions of dollars a year.
10 Investigates has learned some of those bills seem unfounded.
An analysis of state records for the daycare, and two others, shows examples of double billing and high rates of questionable attendance reporting.
The problems involve a state daycare system administered by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS). The state reimburses daycares to watch children from low income families. Families use swipe cards to start the clock ticking for the free daycare.
10 Investigates’ analysis of billing records show irregularities involving the swipe cards. In one case, 10 Investigates found records for a child who was checked in at Global Daycare Center at 8:30 in the morning. The child never checked out, but at the same time, the child checked-in four miles to the north at National Child Care Center daycare at 8:58 a.m. The analysis revealed another child who had the same activity on the same date.
The 10 Investigates’ analysis also revealed a pattern of “back-swiping” at Global and National. Back-swiping takes place when a kid was not checked- in but is later swiped-in as attending.
The state allows it in exceptional circumstances, such as when a parent loses a card. 10TV found back-swiping took place in 25 percent of all ODJFS reimbursed transactions at Global in 2013. The rate was 26 percent for National.
Investigative Reporter Paul Aker took the findings to Joel Potts, the Executive Director for an organization that represents county level Job and Family Service agencies
“If you have a high percentage of back-swipes, is that indicative that fraud might be going on,” Aker asked.
“I think so,” Potts said.
Potts says he’s already warned the state about back-swiping in other cases he’s reviewed.
“Certainly, in some cases we’ve looked at, certainly it’s fraud,” Potts said.
At a National Childcare Center a man who calls himself the assistant manager denied fraud.
“There is no fraud,” said the man who gave his name as A.J. “We have a lawyer that you (can) contact.”
The attorney who represents both Global and National declined to comment.
Global and National are owned separately by a husband and wife. Both daycares are also under FBI investigation related to billing. Nobody has been charged with a crime.
10 Investigates also identified another daycare center that reported a high percentage of back-swipes. WAISS Learning Center had a 78 percent back-swipe rate last year. Until recently, WAISS was owned by Ashkir Ali. According to sources knowledgeable about the situation, Ali sold the daycare after he was indicted on federal charges last year involving fraud with another one of his companies.
Ali plunged that company, WAISS Technology, into a scam involving tutoring services. The federal government convicted Ali on related charges earlier this year. Ali falsified invoices and fraudulently collected more than $100,000 for students who weren’t in attendance at WAISS Technology. A source who is knowledgeable about Ali’s daycare operation said that Ali continued to work at WAISS Learning Center as he was being prosecuted for the tutoring scam.
Edith Love is a manager at WAISS. Love said that someone from ODJFS gave the OK to back-swipe kids up to two weeks after they had attended the center. Love said that many of the back-swipes at WAISS could be attributed to kids who come to the daycare on a bus and therefore do not have swipe cards with them.
10 Investigates took questions to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. But Ohio ODJFS director, Cynthia Dungey, denied repeated requests for an on camera interview.
Instead, spokesman Ben Johnson said that ODJFS tried to close Global and National daycares following the FBI raid last October. Johnson did not elaborate on whether ODJFS had done its own investigation that would have proved improper billing.
Potts said the state could be more aggressive in rooting out apparent abuses in the daycare system.
“Always, we can do more,” Potts said. “But clearly this is an area where we should be focusing.”
Potts said he has warned the state of similar issues in the past.
“It shouldn’t take ending up on television before they take it serious,” Potts said.
Johnson said the state data his department gave 10 Investigates is flawed because of a “corrupted file.” Johnson said the file was corrupted because 10 Investigates attempted to get too many records. The station requested billing transactions for all daycare providers in Franklin County during the year 2013. ODFJS could provide no proof its allegations of corrupted data effected the reporters’ analysis. Johnson could not produce any error logs or email documentation that would suggest ODJFS did analysis to determine whether the data was flawed.
Under state law, the names of children and families that participate in the program cannot be disclosed. Still, 10 Investigates independently corroborated the data of one parent against the data provided by the state. That analysis revealed no errors.
ODJFS has refused all further requests for data despite state records law that suggest it should produce it.
A well-known government policy group questions the ODJFS’s refusal to provide data.
“That seems odd to me,” said Greg Lawson of the Buckeye Institute.
Lawson’s group routinely requests data from the state.
“(It’s) very difficult to understand how you would, why you would not just want to open the doors,” Lawson said.
“Disinfect everything, let everybody see it,” Lawson said. “And if there's challenges, let's deal with it.”