Contact 5 Investigates daycare shell game

Posted at 11:25 PM, Mar 02, 2016

On its website, Kidsville Early Learning Center touts three South Florida locations, a lengthy list of accreditations and an environment that's "nurturing, caring and learning."

But for months, the Contact 5 Investigators have been on the hunt to find out who owns Kidsville of Boynton Beach and Kidsville of Delray Beach.

"I believe Marshas Myrthil is the owner, maybe not on paper but in her mind and in the way she runs things across all the centers she is the owner,” said Leticia Leon, former assistant director at the Delray Beach location.  After nearly a year with the daycare, Leon tells us she was fired.

"I guess I wasn’t doing what they needed me to do or maybe I was asking too many questions," she told the Contact 5 Investigators.

Former director Cassandra Osiagwu said she was given specific instructions when she, too asked questions.

“I was told by Ms. Marshas when I started working there that if anybody ever asked me who the owner I wasn't to say," she said.

Osiagwu quit after three months.

"It's a daycare we've had many challenges with," said Warren Eldridge, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County.  His office doles out government dollars each year to daycare centers caring for the county’s low-income children.

"This is tax-payer dollars going to provide care to our most vulnerable children,” he said.

But for nearly two years, his office has been tracking Kidsville for all the wrong reasons.

"We're constantly chasing to find out who is buying this business," he told the Contact 5 Investigators.

In 2014, the owners of Kidsville, Marshas Mrythil and her husband, Jean Benjamin, falsified a government application for child care meal money.

According to government records, Marshas also failed to mention her own criminal record for fraudulent use of a credit card in 2009.

So the federal government cut off that money.

"How does a daycare lose federal funding and still be able to keep other funding to stay open for business,” asked Contact 5 Investigator Katie LaGrone?

“They shouldn't be able to.  In my opinion they not should be able to,” answered Eldridge.

But they can.  

It's the little known secret now trending in the Florida daycare industry.

Problem daycare owners who lose federal funding, resort to a legal shell game by changing out who's in charge on corporate business records to keep one thing rolling in, the money.

"It's a statewide problem," explains Matt Guse, President of the state association of Early Learning Coalitions.  He has heard complaints from county ELC directors like Eldridge who are frustrated with this so-called daycare shell game.

"I've heard stories of bus drivers being sold the business,” he told the Contact 5 Investigators.

“We’re allowing them to continue to serve children just by changing their name,” said Susan Mane, ELC Director of the office in Duvall County.  “Because of this loophole they can just sell their business to the bus driver, the sister, the brother and still continue to care for our children which is the worrisome part for our community,” she said.

In Kidsville's case - "We had to hire an investigator with the sheriff's office to track this shell game," said Eldridge.

What did the investigator discover?

“Turns out as we looked into it, it was sold to a half-brother.  This past year the ownership has been changed to two daughters.  They’ve sold their business four times, four times in the past 14 months," he said.

Today, the person listed on state corporate records as the registered agent for Kidsville is someone by the name of “Stenise Saget.”

But when the Contact 5 Investigators tried to track down Saget, we couldn’t find her.  When we visited both Kidsville locations, its managers told us they never heard of her.  We attempted to talk to Martias Myrthil about the daycare back in October.  She never followed up.  So we recently caught up with her outside Kidsville's corporate office in Boynton Beach.

Myrthil left in her Mercedes without a word.

But those who believe they've figured out her game have their own last words for her.

“I don't think she has the children's best interest at heart, I really don't," said Cassandra Osiagwu.

"I'm hopeful it will be closed because it needs to be closed,” said Warren Eldridge.

"Do I think they're devoted to the children?  No I think they're devoted to their bottom line," said Leticia Leon.

Late last week, the Early Learning Coalition announced they were suspending all state funding to Kidsville which totals nearly $400,000 between the two centers in Palm Beach County. Its reason, an ongoing fraud investigation inspired, in part, by our investigation.  115 children now need to find other daycare centers.

The Early Learning Coalition believes the only way to stop this from happening is for legislators to pass a law that would prevent daycare owners from arms-length transactions.  This means they would no longer be allowed to sell the business to a relative or current employee of the daycare.

To find out how you can learn more about the ownership of your child’s daycare center:

-          Check, which is the state’s main hub for all businesses in Florida.  You can search information on any corporation by name of business or registered agent. 

-          Check to see how many name changes the business has gone through

-          Ask your daycare who owns the daycare and if they’ve recently sold that daycare

-          If a daycare has gone through multiple recent changes of management and/or sales that may be a red flag that the daycare owner is using a loophole in the law to keep federal and/or state funding despite losing money for wrongdoing.