Cynthia Jones and Carolyn Wilkerson

LEFT: Cynthia Jones was charged with 11 counts of public assistance fraud and one count first-degree theft of property. RIGHT: Carolyn Wilkerson was charged with 10 counts of public assistance fraud and one count of first-degree theft of property.

Two Opelika day care owners and a third defendant charged with defrauding a public assistance program were scheduled to appear in court for their preliminary hearings, but all three waived their hearings Wednesday morning.

It was revealed in court that Carolyn Wilkerson, of New Horizons, agreed to a plea agreement prior to the hearing, therefore waiving her hearing.

The details of the plea agreement were not immediately available.

Wilkerson’s sister, Cynthia Jones, of People of Hope – also known as First Steps - waived her hearing Wednesday morning. Jones’ attorney, Clinton Wilson, made the announcement shortly after the court’s docket began in Judge Steven Speakman’s courtroom.

It was also revealed in court that a third defendant, Arlishia Greer, was arrested and charged in connection to the scheme and was to appear in court for a preliminary hearing Wednesday.

Greer, an employee of the Family Guidance Center, also waived her right to a preliminary hearing Wednesday morning.

Greer is charged with four counts of public assistance fraud. She was arrested Feb. 22 and is represented by Margaret Brown, according to court records.

Wilkerson is charged with 10 counts of public assistance fraud and one count of first-degree theft of property.

Jones is charged with 11 counts of public assistance fraud and one count of first-degree theft of property.

The amount of money associated with Jones’ charges is $542,242.90; and with Wilkerson’s charges, $119,765.95, according to previous reports.

The amount of money is expected to increase as the investigation continues, Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said in February.

“I’ll go ahead and tell you, we anticipate it’s going to be much more than that… We do anticipate those numbers to go up, both in dollar amount and in number of charges,” Hughes said then.

Subsidy cards

Court documents reveal details of the scheme between the trio of defendants.

Greer is said to have falsified documents for both Jones and Wilkerson to receive subsidy cards, according to court records.

Subsidy cards are used to notify the Department of Human Resources (DHR) that a child is attending day care and how often. DHR will then deposit money directly into the account of the day care center for its services.

According to the court documents, Greer created numerous fraudulent child accounts.

DHR documents that were turned over to investigators revealed on Jan. 10, 128 children entered into First Steps Daycare between 1:01 p.m. and 1:38 p.m. Jones is the owner of First Steps, court documents say.

During a search warrant executed on Jan. 31, investigators found more than 100 subsidy cards found in possession of First Steps, according to court documents.

It is against DHR policy for day care centers to be in possession of the subsidy cards, Hughes said in February.

Falsified applications

Among numerous claims, Jones is also said to have used a subsidy card for two registered children in the program who attended First Steps until March 2017. The children then attended another day care, court documents say.

DHR records revealed the card was continuously swiped from April 2017 until November 2018, while the children were attending another day care. During this time, First Steps pocketed about $6,456.75 from the subsidy program while the day care the children were attending did not receive payments, court documents state.

Court documents also said Wilkerson worked with the Family Guidance Center to falsify applications to get day care customers into the subsidy program.

To help get applicants qualify, Wilkerson created a fake company, P&M Trucking, to put under the place of employment for several applicants, the documents stated.

In one instance, an employee at the Family Guidance Center listed Wilkerson’s applicant as homeless to be approved for the program. Investigation revealed the applicant was not homeless and never applied for the program. The applicant also stated that she did not know she and her children were on the program, court documents reveal.

The subsidy card, which is to be mailed to the applicant, was mailed directly to New Horizons. The applicant’s children only attended the day care for a short amount of time before leaving the day care, according to court documents.

The day care continued to swipe the applicant’s card as if the children were attending, despite them not attending New Horizons, court documents say.

Investigation

DHR began investigating the fraud in 2017 before turning the case over to the Lee County District Attorney’s Office in January.

If convicted, the women could face anywhere between one year and a day to 10 years in the penitentiary per public assistance fraud charged, Hughes stated in February.

Jones and Wilkerson could face anywhere between two to 20 years for the first-degree theft of property charged, according to Hughes.

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