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Woodside day care targeted in fraud audit

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State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced last week that five Queens centers were among 19 day care providers recommended for investigation on suspicion of potentially defrauding the state of thousands of dollars in funding.

Women of Faith Day Care in Jamaica, Kids Choice Day Care in Queens Village, Queens Child Guidance Center in Woodside, Little Rascals Infants and Toddlers Day Care in Flushing, and Nu Image Family Center in Jamaica are suspected of having improperly used state funding, DiNapoli said.

"These day-care dollars are supposed to expand services in the city and help working families by providing a safe, caring environment for children," DiNapoli said in a prepared statement. "Instead, we've seen 47 cents on every dollar in this expansion effort simply disappear. It's deplorable that individuals would seek to exploit these programs."

Owners or directors for most of the centers were not available for comment by press time Tuesday, but the Woodside organization denied any knowledge of wrongdoing.

"We know about it as much as you know about it," said Sandra Hagen, executive director of the Child Center of New York, formerly Queens Child Guidance Center. "We are in fact trying to find out exactly what is going on."

Hagen said the contract in question ended in 2005, but declined to elaborate further.

"There are no charges against our agency at this time," she said.

The audit examined 205 contracts awarded by the Office of Children and Family Services between 1999 and 2006. It found that the centers had created only 821, or 53 percent, of the 1,545 child care slots they had been paid to create, resulting in an overpayment of $861,995.

The report also alleged that some of the centers made unnecessary or fraudulent reimbursement requests, which created more than $1 million in overpayments.

In one case, auditors found that $15,556 of the $20,666 in invoices submitted were for cancelled and returned orders, including $9,015 for computers purchased and later returned without informing the state, the report said.

Although an OCFS-funded needs assessment study in 2004 identified the top 10 city communities with the highest need for child care, only five of 18 contracts awarded between Jan. 1, 2004 ,and May 1, 2006, were within these 10 high-need communities.

None of those contracts were awarded to providers in the only Queens neighborhood in the top 10, Flushing, which ranked No. 6.

DiNapoli recommended the OCFS try to recover almost $2.2 million from day-care centers that either failed to create the necessary number of child-care slots or spent funds inappropriately.

Day-care centers in Queens have faced problems in the past. In 2006, the state paid the defunct Jackson Heights Community Development Corp. $40,000 to pay off debts associated with the failed Ivan Lafayette Children's Center project at 34th Street and Junction Boulevard.

The project had been funded through a $1 million grant from the OCFS, as well as several hundred thousand dollars in federal grants from the Queens Child Guidance Center.

In Brooklyn, 12 day-care centers were pointed out to the district attorney. Auditors also reported one day-care center in the Bronx and one in Manhattan as candidates for the investigation.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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