Sisters Receive Collective 17 Years in Prison for Stealing School Voucher Funds
Tara Klimek or Nina Banister
TALLAHASSEE—Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Jerry Hill, State Attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit, announced today that sisters Betty Mae Jives Mitchell, 40, and Jeannette Jives Nealy, 39, were sentenced Monday to a collective 17 years in prison for fraudulently obtaining and misusing more than $200,000 from Florida’s school voucher program.
Mitchell’s sentence is 160 months, just over 13 years, and Jeannette Nealy was sentenced to 48.9 months, just over four years, in prison. Both also received 10 years of probation, were ordered not to operate a child care facility or any school while on probation, were restricted to one bank account each and are banned from applying for any state or federal funding.
“The jury clearly recognized the seriousness of these actions and sent a strong message that stealing money from taxpayers is not acceptable,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services (DFS), which assisted with the investigation that led to the charges. “I commend the investigators and prosecutors involved in this case for ensuring these women were held accountable.”
The sentencing follows an investigation led by the Polk County State Attorney’s Office in partnership with the DFS’ Office of Fiscal Integrity and Division of Insurance Fraud. The investigation focused on the sisters along with other family members: Jocie Jives, Levy Gail Everett-Davis, (acquitted), Demario Quowon Jives, Willie James Jives, and Margaret Burns. All were arrested on June 29, 2004, on various charges of racketeering, grand theft, money laundering and scheme to defraud.
The charges are based on evidence that individuals, using a church-based school, illegally obtained and used funds from Florida’s school voucher program through misrepresentation and theft. Faith Christian Academy, formerly located at 810 E. Main St. in Bartow, was established as a school to educate disabled and low-income children. Principals of Faith Christian Academy applied to the Florida Department of Education to qualify for the John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program and the Corporate Tax Credit Program. They then fraudulently applied for scholarship dollars on behalf of unknowing parents of students not at the school, charged the state for school vouchers in excess of what they charged other students in tuition, and submitted fake receipts in order to get funds from the national school lunch and breakfast programs. A substantial amount of the stolen funds were spent for personal use, including the purchase of a Hummer H2 and Lexus L400.
The trial of Betty Mitchell, Jocie Jives, Jeannette Nealy, and Levy Gail Everett-Davis began on May 15, 2006. Everett-Davis was found not guilt and the jury could not reach a verdict on the others. Betty Mitchell, and Jeannette Nealy’s retrial began on July 9, 2007, and both were found guilty – Betty Mitchell in 25 of 27 counts (Racketeering, Conspiracy, Money Laundering, Structuring Transactions, Fraud, Communications Fraud, Theft-McKay, Theft-National School Lunch Program, Theft-Florida PRIDE, Theft-Bank of America, and Uttering Forgeries 15 counts) and Jeannette Nealy in four of eight counts (Racketeering, Scheme to Defraud, and Theft-McKay and Theft-Bank of America).
The Office of Fiscal Integrity is responsible for statewide investigations of allegations of fraud, waste, or abuse involving State of Florida property and money. To report fraud, waste, or abuse of state resources, visit http://www.fldfs.com/fraudpage.asp
or call 1-800-GET-LEAN (1-800-438-5326).
As a statewide elected officer of the Florida Cabinet, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink oversees the Department of Financial Services, a multi-division state agency responsible for management of state funds and unclaimed property, assisting consumers who request information and help related to financial services, and investigating financial fraud. CFO Sink also serves as the State Fire Marshal.