HARRISBURG – Attorney General Tom Corbett announced the filing of criminal charges against 11 people allegedly involved in a Mercer County welfare fraud scheme involving bogus daycare and employment claims, as the result of a joint investigation with Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General.
Corbett identified the principal figure in the alleged conspiracy as Kelley Michelle Culp, also known as Kelley Michelle Lawson, 45, Hermitage, Mercer County. Culp is the owner and operator of two daycare facilities, Kelley Culp Daycare and Kelley Culp Daycare Too, both located in Farrell, Mercer County.
“This was an organized and focused effort to steal more than $700,000 from the state’s public welfare program,” Corbett said. “Fraudulent claims for public assistance divert resources from programs and families that truly need these services, in addition to taking money directly from the pockets of Pennsylvania taxpayers.”
Corbett said that Culp and other coconspirators allegedly submitted false information to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and Mercer County Child Care Information Services, claiming to care for children on days or times when they did not attend Culp’s daycare centers.
According to the criminal complaint, Culp also falsely claimed that a number of children’s parents were actually “employees” at her daycare centers, though they were rarely seen at those facilities. Additionally, a number of these “employees” were allegedly observed at home, playing with their children, during times that they were supposed to be working at the daycare center.
Corbett said Culp’s daycare business received funds from the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare based on the number of children who received services, and the fraudulent claims for care involving additional children inflated those payments. The scheme allegedly resulted in more than $673,000 in fraudulent state payments to Culp and her codefendants.
Additionally, Corbett said the fictitious “employees” at Culp’s daycare centers allegedly filed claims for public assistance benefits. In order to receive public assistance, these individuals were required to be employed or actively seeking employment and information about their bogus “work” at the daycare centers was used to support their claims for state benefits.
According to the investigation, bogus claims filed by these individuals resulted in public assistance payments ranging from $6,000 to more than $53,000 for the coconspirators in this scheme.
Corbett said that criminal charges have been filed against ten people accused of conspiring with Culp to defraud the Department of Public Welfare, including Katrina Yvonne Cain, 36, Farrell; Elizabeth Evelyn Carnathan, 28, Youngstown, OH; Felicia Marlene Coxson, 40, Gainesville, FL; Joani Lynn Harris, 37, Sanford, NC; Charlotte Tina Jackson, 37, Sharon; Earnest James Lawson III (son of Kelley Culp), 22, Hermitage; Samantha Lynn Maxwell, 32, Sharon; Stacey Lynn Rasberry, 37, Hermitage; Tawona Janine Thompson, 40, Sharon; and Bashie Williams, 51, Farrell.
Corbett said that Culp is charged with theft by deception, criminal conspiracy to commit theft by deception, criminal conspiracy to commit welfare fraud and making unsworn falsifications to authorities.
Carnathan is charged with welfare fraud, criminal conspiracy to commit theft by deception and forgery.
Lawson is charged with welfare fraud and criminal conspiracy to commit welfare fraud.
Rasberry is charged with welfare fraud, criminal conspiracy to commit welfare fraud and criminal conspiracy to commit theft by deception.
Cain, Coxson, Harris, Jackson, Maxwell, Thompson and Williams are charged with welfare fraud and criminal conspiracy to commit theft by deception.
The criminal charges against all of the defendants were filed before Farrell Magisterial District Judge Ronald Antos, who will schedule preliminary arraignments at a later date.
The defendants will be prosecuted in Mercer County by Senior Deputy Attorney General L. Todd Goodwin of the Attorney General’s Criminal Prosecution Section.
Corbett thanked the Pennsylvania State Police, Office of the Inspector General, Department of Public Welfare, Mercer County Child Care Information Services and the Mercer County District Attorney’s Office for their cooperation and assistance with this investigation.