4 child care providers indicted on federal fraud charges

Kristyna Wentz-Graff
daycare nws kwg 7--"Everything I have, I worked for and I worked very hard," says daycare owner Latasha Jackson at her Milwaukee facility, August 19, 2009. Regulators in the Wisconsin Shares program have speculated that Jackson was providing false information and defrauding the system for more than a decade, but they continue to authorize payments. "I don't operate like that," she says. "I ain't here to do something that ain't gonna last. I'm here to make something work and I've been doing it forever." PHOTO: KRISTYNA WENTZ-GRAFF / KWENTZ@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM
Published on: 1/25/2011

The Menomonee Falls woman who built a 7,600-square-foot mansion and bought a Jaguar convertible while collecting about $3 million in taxpayer subsidies from her Milwaukee child care center has been criminally indicted.

After a 16-month investigation, federal authorities Tuesday charged Latasha Jackson Wilder - along with three of her friends - with stealing thousands of dollars from the Wisconsin Shares program.

Jackson, 33, is charged with scamming about $24,000 from the child care program and roughly $5,000 from the state's food subsidy program during a brief period in 2007.

Sources close to the investigation said Tuesday's charges are likely the first of more to come against Jackson, who has reportedly moved to Pearland, Texas.

None of the charges against Jackson relates to findings of an FBI search in January 2010 of her most recent child care center, Kiddie Springs Child Development Center. Investigators at that time interviewed seven women who told them Jackson billed the program for kids who lived in another state, forged signatures and otherwise falsified records to inflate the number of children at the center and its hours of operation.

Tuesday's charges are also unrelated to the fire that destroyed Jackson's home in December 2009. The state Department of Justice said Tuesday that an investigation is still under way.

Instead, the indictment centers on a short time in 2007 and 2008, during which Jackson is accused of conspiring with the husband-and-wife team Duane and Shontina Gladney, as well as Telisa Hopgood, Shontina Gladney's sister. The trio ran a child care center called Executive Kids on N. King Drive.

The Gladneys and Hopgood are accused of bilking the child care subsidy program out of about $175,000 from 2007 to 2010.

It's the first federal indictment against child care providers since the Journal Sentinel uncovered widespread fraud and shoddy oversight in the state's taxpayer-financed program two years ago. More than a dozen state charges have been filed, and several providers have been sent to prison.

"Today's indictment reflects the strong commitment of federal and state law enforcement to investigate thoroughly and prosecute effectively those individuals who abuse legitimate programs designed to benefit our families, including children," U.S. Attorney James L. Santelle said in a written statement.

Paper trail

The Journal Sentinel first wrote about Jackson in August 2009, exposing how for a decade regulators had ignored red flags suggesting Jackson was stealing from the subsidy program. The newspaper compiled a paper trail on Jackson tallying more than 1,800 pages, including public records as well as documents obtained from sources that state and county regulators refused to release.

The documents detailed how regulators repeatedly failed to take action or cut off payments despite Jackson's extensive violations, her history of lying and even regulators' own outright proof of fraud.

According to Tuesday's indictment, Latasha Jackson was running her own child care center, Latasha's Learning Enterprise, but got shut down in 2007. She then sent authorization information for 45 children to the Gladneys. The children didn't actually attend Executive Kids, but the Gladneys billed the state anyway, according to the indictment. The Gladneys paid Jackson for the information, the indictment alleges.

In all, Executive Kids collected more than $2 million from the Wisconsin Shares program since 2005, according to records obtained by the newspaper. State regulators suspended the center from the subsidy program last year.

Jackson's license was revoked in 2007 after she beat her nephew with a belt, according to documents obtained in 2009 by the Journal Sentinel. During that time Jackson applied for public assistance to enroll her own three children and her niece in the Gladneys' center while she reportedly worked for the couple in their real estate office, the indictment states. Like the 45 children whose authorization information Jackson forwarded to the Gladneys, her two oldest children and her niece never attended Executive Kids, but the Gladneys billed the state anyway, according to federal investigators.

Jackson later went before a rehabilitation panel and won her license back. She reopened in December 2008 as Kiddie Springs on W. Lancaster Ave. near N. 38th St.

State regulators again revoked her license in 2009 after learning the Journal Sentinel was preparing to publish a story. Jackson appealed the revocation. The state Department of Children and Families declined to respond Tuesday to questions about the status of her appeal.

Jackson did not return calls to her cell phone. Her attorney, Rodney Cubbie, said Jackson is going to contest the charges and intends to take the case to trial. Cubbie noted that Jackson is named in only three of the 17 criminal counts: a conspiracy count and two counts related to allegedly defrauding the system for personal benefits.

"It is an interesting indictment," Cubbie said. "It primarily relates to the conduct of other people, and the last two allegations against her don't have anything to do with her day care business."

Attorneys for the Gladneys and Hopgood could not be reached for comment.

Duane Gladney, 55, and Shontina Gladney, 40, both of Menomonee Falls, and Hopgood, 42, of Milwaukee, were each charged with between 11 and 14 counts, most of which carry maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Jackson faces a maximum of 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if convicted on all three counts.

However, under federal guidelines, the defendants would likely be sentenced to far less time if convicted.

None of the defendants is in custody. They are all expected to make their initial appearances in court next month.

The $350 million Wisconsin Shares program was launched in 1997 under then-Gov. Tommy Thompson as part of a major welfare overhaul. It was designed to help low-income families get jobs by paying for the cost of child care.