GALLAGHER, STATE ATTORNEY ANNOUNCE ARRESTS IN SCHOOL VOUCHER FRAUD SCHEME
Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and Polk County State Attorney Jerry Hill today announced the arrests of seven individuals for fraudulently obtaining and misusing state education funds. The arrests stem from an investigation led by the Polk County State Attorney’s Office in partnership with the state Department of Financial Services’ Office of Fiscal Integrity and Division of Insurance Fraud.
Various charges, including racketeering, grand theft, money laundering and scheme to defraud, have been filed against the seven individuals. Betty J. Mitchell, 37; Jocie Jives, 60; Jeanette Jives Nealy, 36; Demario Quowon Jives, 19; Margaret Burns, 31; Willie James Jives, 35, were booked into the Polk County Jail. Levy Gail Everett-Davis, 42, was booked into the Hillsborough County Jail.
The charges are based on evidence that individuals, using a church-based school, illegally obtained and used funds from the John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program through misrepresentation and theft. Faith Christian Academy, located at 810 East Main Street in Bartow, was established as a school to educate disabled children. Allegedly, principals of the school applied to the state Department of Education to qualify for McKay Scholarship Program funds. They then fraudulently applied for scholarship dollars on behalf of unknowing parents and diverted the money for personal use.
“These individuals should be
prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Gallagher, who oversees the
Department of Financial Services. “These arrests reinforce the need to have
meaningful accountability in all Florida programs, including our school choice
programs. I’m going to do everything I can to ensure these programs are
successful and tax dollars are appropriately spent.”
The state attorney’s affidavit alleges theft in excess of $200,000. The alleged thefts began in late November 2003.
McKay Scholarship funds are required by law to be distributed to parents of children with disabilities who have spent the prior year at a Florida public school and who have been accepted at a private school that has qualified to use McKay Scholarship funds. The purpose of the program is to provide parents with education options for children with disabilities.