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NEWS RELEASE

OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY

WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI


JOHN F. WOOD


Contact Don Ledford, Public Affairs ● (816) 426-4220 ● 400 East Ninth Street, Room 5510 ● Kansas City, MO 64106

www.usdoj.gov/usao/mow/index.html


AUGUST 5, 2008

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


DAYCARE OWNERS, OPERATORS INDICTED

FOR NEARLY $123,000 FRAUD


FIRST STEPS OPERATED 10 DAYCARE CENTERS

IN SOUTHERN MISSOURI


            KANSAS CITY, Mo. – John F. Wood, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that four family members involved in the ownership and operation of 10 day care centers in southern Missouri were indicted by a federal grand jury today for participating in a conspiracy to submit false documentation to receive nearly $123,000 in reimbursements for federally funded programs.


            Suzanne Smith, 57, and Stephen R. Smith, 57, who are married, and their daughters, Stephanie Smith, 30, and Christina Ann Thomas, 32, all of Bruner, Mo., were charged in a two-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Kansas City. Stephen Smith was the president and Suzanne Smith the vice president of First Steps Daycare, Inc., d/b/a First Steps of Southwest Missouri, Inc. Stephanie Smith was a director and Christina Ann Thomas was the secretary of the corporation, which owned and operated 10 child daycare centers in Missouri, including Springfield, Nixa, Mt. Vernon, Monett, Aurora and Branson.


            Today’s indictment alleges that, from Nov. 1, 2003, to Oct. 31, 2004, each of the four co-defendants participated in a conspiracy to alter meal and daycare records and to inflate meal counts, thereby claiming meals and childcare costs that were never provided by First Steps. In addition to the conspiracy, Suzanne Smith, Stephanie Smith and Christina Ann Thomas are each charged with one count of federal program fraud.


            According to the indictment, children who attended First Steps daycare centers qualified for subsidies through the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services, which administered the Child Care Subsidy Program funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They also qualified for subsidies through the Missouri Division of Health and Senior Services, which administered the Child and Adult Care Food Program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


            From 2002 through 2005, First Steps officers and employees allegedly perpetuated a fraudulent scheme whereby attendance sheets were altered and meal reimbursement requests were completed for children who did not attend the daycare facilities. First Steps allegedly submitted 194 daycare claim forms, receiving $117,622 in reimbursements from the Child Care Subsidy Program, for children who were not present. First Steps also allegedly submitted 70 meal claim forms, receiving $5,364 in meal reimbursements from the Child and Adult Care Food Program, for children who were not present when meals were provided.


            Today’s indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation, which would require the defendants to forfeit to the government any property used to commit the alleged offenses or any property that was derived from the proceeds of the alleged offenses, including $122,987 that was paid for fraudulent reimbursements, the bank accounts of Stephen Smith, Stephanie Smith, Suzanne Smith and First Steps of Southwest Missouri, residential property in Bruner, property in Ozark, Mo., the former First Steps Learn & Grow property in Mt. Vernon and the former First Steps Smart Start property in Monett.


            Wood cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.


            This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Pansing Brown. It was investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services.


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This news release, as well as additional information about the office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, is available on-line at

www.usdoj.gov/usao/mow/index.html