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Mpls. Daycare Center Raid Reveals Widespread Fraud

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A raid at a Minneapolis daycare center is revealing a larger issue of fraud with centers in the state.

Agencies closed Baraka Child Care Center Wednesday morning while investigators executed a search warrant. It is one of 10 being investigated for financial misconduct of Minnesota's Child Care Assistance Program.

Nearly 2,400 kids are on the waiting list for the assistance program, which helps low-income families pay for childcare. Daycares are given money per child.

"There's been these totally fraudulent operators stealing money, and so high time, and they should crack down on more," said Republican Senator Jim Abeler, chair of the Human Services Reform Finance and Policy.

As part of the investigation, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Secret Service spent hours at a home in Columbia Heights, combing through it and collecting evidence.

A relative told WCCO, "they are good family, they work hard, you know, that's all."

Baraka Childcare Center
(credit: CBS)

The raid at Baraka focuses on fraudulent billing of the state assistance program. A childcare provider investigations unit formed in 2014 to investigate similar cases has already closed 12 childcare centers.

"The latest childcare scam has been to have 100 people, 100 kids enrolled in your program. Have 10 show up, bill for the 100," Abeler said.

That happened in several cases that resulted in a conviction. In one, the criminal complaint reveals investigators set up cameras to capture kids who entered and exited. Over a two-week period in 2014, the daycare billed for 950 children who did not attend the center -- resulting in $51,053 of fraud, just for that time period.

"There are people who have severe needs that we can't take care of because there's just not enough money, yet money goes out the back," Abeler said.

Investigators have not released any details about what was found in the raid at Baraka. WCCO reached out to Baraka Child Care Center for a comment, but they have not responded to our request.

Minnesota Department of Human Services Inspector General Carolyn Ham gave this statement to WCCO:

DHS continues to aggressively pursue and investigate fraud in the Child Care Assistance Program. Child care fraud is especially egregious because in addition to exploiting taxpayer money, it harms the families and children the program is intended to help. The Office of Inspector General, which DHS established in 2011 to increase our focus on fraud prevention and investigation, will continue to partner with other agencies, including law enforcement, in this investigation. We are also working to expand our fraud efforts, adding investigators and increasing our use of technology to detect and prevent fraud in state benefits.

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