NEW YORK (AP) - Nine child care centers are on track to be shuttered after investigators found one served no children yet got almost $60,000 in city money, another had rat droppings on the floor and spoiled milk in the fridge, and others had filed phony background checks, teachers' credentials and other important documents.
At one center, a staffer even bolted out the door when confronted about using fake credentials, city Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson and Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan said while announcing the probe Friday. The centers' owners have pleaded not guilty to various charges involving false documents.
"These fabrications meant the city did not have a clear picture of the staff and operations at these sites and whether children were appropriately protected," Peters said. Authorities don't believe any children were harmed as a result.
The case comes as the city embarks on a major prekindergarten expansion, but Peters said none of the centers in the investigation unveiled Friday even applied to be pre-K facilities.
Six centers have already been closed. A seventh is closing by year's end, to allow time to find other care for its children, and, in the meantime, is being closely monitored. Investigators have asked regulators to close the other two.
Together, the nine centers were authorized to care for 400 children. All were privately owned, but some got city Administration for Children's Services payments to care for poor children. The agency said Friday it works actively to detect and stop fraud.
The owner of multiple Brooklyn centers all called Next to Home got nearly $60,000 in ACS payments, even though one of the centers never actually operated, authorities said. Inspectors found the rat droppings, the spoiled milk and a broken fire-alarm handle at another Next to Home location, Peters said.
Moreover, owner Owen Larman was an admitted fraudster, having pleaded guilty to grand larceny in a mortgage-fraud scheme in 2007, according to court records. He served about three years in prison and was released in 2011.
At the ABC Little Star center in Brooklyn, a staffer with a phony criminal background-check letter on file darted out the door when investigators arrived, Thompson said. Authorities are still working to determine the person's true identity, but the flight "indicates to me that they had something to hide," Thompson said.
Owner Elena Kaplan's lawyer, David Levine, said she "strives to run a legitimate day care, providing a safe and healthy environment."
At One of a Kind Child Care on Staten Island, investigators were presented with clearance letters - state documents certifying that teachers had no record of child abuse - that quickly roused suspicion: They bore the names of governors who were no longer in office, Donovan said.
Owner Gina Schiavo's lawyer said the longtime educator has never gotten complaints about the care she provided.
"Her focus is and always has been the well-being of the children she cares for," said the attorney, Michael Jaccarino.
Lawyers for Larman and another defendant, Viktoriya Federovich of Gnomiki Day Care, didn't immediately return calls.