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Gallagher, State Attorney Announce Arrests in School Voucher Fraud Scheme


CONTACT: Tami Torres
(850) 413-2842

BARTOW– 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 and Corporate Tax Credit 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. They are also alleged to have misappropriated funds from the Title I School Lunch Program.

"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."

Hill echoed Gallagher's comments. "This case should serve as a wake-up call to Tallahassee that better financial controls need to be in place."

In late December 2003, the department was advised by a financial institution of irregularities involving a bank account from which multiple state warrants were written to more than 60 individuals, deposited into one account, and then withdrawn and converted into cashier's checks and cashed. In January 2004, the department stopped payments.

The state attorney's affidavit alleges theft in excess of $200,000. The alleged thefts began in late 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. Corporate Tax Credit contributions are required by law to be used as scholarships for children whose families have limited financial means. The purpose of these programs is to provide parents with education options for their children.