Guilty plea spotlights fraud in government childcare assistance - KCTV5 News

Guilty plea spotlights fraud in government childcare assistance program

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Arianne Stewart leaving court in downtown St. Louis. (KMOV) Arianne Stewart leaving court in downtown St. Louis. (KMOV)

A St. Louis woman pleaded guilty to felony charges of defrauding a federal program that provides taxpayer dollars to help pay for childcare.

The goal of the program is to enable parents to work or attend school so they can become self-sufficient and eventually no longer need government assistance. The program provides about $5.7 billion a year to help low-income families pay for daycare. It is available only to parents who are working or enrolled in college.

Arianne Stewart pleaded guilty earlier this month to stealing government funds. Federal prosecutors said Stewart applied for money available through the Childcare and Development Fund.

Prosecutors said Stewart was neither working nor in school, despite collecting nearly $50,000 in funds over several years dating back to 2010.  Investigators said that during this period she regularly filled out paperwork stating what college and classes she was attending.

Despite pleading guilty in court, Stewart told News 4 she had done nothing wrong. 

Bill Young, a special agent with the Department of Health and Human Services, told News 4 that Stewart is just one of about five defendants charged with the same offense in St. Louis in the last year.

Young said that in one case a defendant with nine children was charged with stealing more than $100,000.  Despite the cases of fraud, Young said he believes the program is beneficial.

A daycare provider told KMOV-TV the program is important for low-income parents who are trying to become self-reliant. Missouri residents get about $100 million a year.  Illinois receives $224 million a year.  Young said the large amounts of money available make the program a target for fraud.

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