Several day care centers were raided and charged by the Hennepin County Attorney's office Tuesday in a culmination of a months-long investigation into fraud involving state and federal funds to help low income parents.
Investigators named it "Operation Kids Count" because they counted children coming in and out of the centers. They found the numbers didn't add up when compared to attendance claimed by the centers in paperwork sent to the state.
Prosecutors say the centers were over-billing the Minnesota Child Care Assistance Program by 35 percent, amounting to about $1 million.
Three of them — Minnesota Child Care Services, Children's Choice Center and Ummah Child Care Services, all in Minneapolis — were charged with theft by swindle. The fourth in St. Louis Park is still under investigation.
Prosecutors charged the centers to freeze their assets. Freeman said center operators will not have access to bank accounts.
About a year and a half ago, the inspector general's office in the Minnesota Department of Human Services noticed unusually high billings. Minnesota Child Care Services, was the largest recipient of assistance funds in the state, with $2.7 million in 2013 and $3 million in 2014, according to the criminal complaint.
Inspector General Jerry Kerber said the day care centers took money that could have helped other families.
"With each one of these fraudulent activities occurring, we diminish our trust in the public programs," Kerber said. "In the end we all suffer."
The Minnesota Child Care Assistance Program is designed to help low-income families send their kids to day care. The program serves 30,000 children in a given month, and there are about 5,300 more families on the waiting list.
In addition to the centers, the six homes of their principals in Ramsey, Washington and Hennepin counties were also raided. Four people were arrested. Authorities are still looking for two others. Charges against the individuals have not been filed to date.
The four day care centers remain open and their licenses have not been revoked. The centers were closed Tuesday but will reopen Wednesday.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the parents aren't at fault and the state will help them find other child care options.