Cynthia Jones, the owner of People of Hope also known as First Steps Daycare, was charged with defrauding the Alabama Department of Human Resources.
The Lee County District Attorney’s Office announced Jones received a 10-year suspended sentence on each of the six counts with five years probation. Jones also agreed to pay back $160,000 to DHR as restitution.
Carolyn Wilkerson, of New Horizons and Jones’s sister, also pleaded guilty in July to six counts of public assistance fraud.
A third defendant, Arlishia Greer, an employee of the Family Guidance Center, is facing four charges of public assistance fraud for her alleged role in the scheme.
“This was an exhaustive investigation by the Alabama Department of Human Resources, Opelika Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office. I was glad to see Ms. Jones accept responsibility for her actions,” said Lee Co. District Attorney Branson Hughes.
Wilkerson, Jones, and Greer were charged and arrested in February after DHR had been investigating the case for two years, starting in 2017.
Greer is said to have falsified documents for both Jones and Wilkerson to receive subsidy cards according to court records.
Subsidy cards are used to tell DHR a child is attending daycare and how frequently they attend. DHR then deposits money directly into the account of the care center for its services.
Court records show Greer created numerous fraudulent child accounts. Investigators discovered more than 100 subsidy cards in possession of First Steps, where Greer worked.
“It is against DHR policy for daycare centers to be in possession of the subsidy cards,” Hughes said.
Prosecutors believe Wilkerson defrauded DHR in the amount of $119,765.95, while Jones’ defrauded $542,242.90 from then agency.
“Unfortunately, due to current state law, jail time was never likely in this case based on the charges filed against the defendants. This guilty plea closes this case and avoids a protracted and costly litigation process,” Hughes said.