GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A judge on Thursday sentenced a Grand Rapids day care owner to 60 days in jail for billing the state for care she did not provide.
Janice Rhodes, 67, previously pleaded guilty in Kent County Circuit Court to two counts of misdemeanor welfare fraud.
“I apologize that this ever happened, your honor,” said the former owner of Alphabet Soup Daycare Center on Leonard Street NE near Ball Avenue. “I just want to move on with my life.”
Judge Mark Trusock sentenced Rhodes to two months in jail, in addition to ordering restitution of $32,746, the amount Rhodes most recently overbilled the state.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate that you simply pay the restitution and walk out the door,” Trusock told Rhodes in court. “You did something wrong here. You need to think about what you did wrong. Accordingly, ma’am, I’m placing you on probation for a period of one year. I’m ordering that you spend 60 days in the Kent County jail.
A Target 8 investigation found Rhodes had been caught overcharging the state of Michigan four times since 2005 for a total of $177,695.50.
The Child Development and Care Program within the Department of Education helps cover day care costs for qualifying low-income families so parents can work. The program allowed Rhodes to maintain her day care care license until the fourth, most recent overbilling episode.
Her license was revoked in July.
Kent County’s prosecutor had initially charged Rhodes with felony fraud, but agreed to plead it down to two misdemeanor counts, which are each punishable for 90 days in jail or a $500 fine.
Prosecutor Chris Becker told Target 8 his office knew there were prior instances of fraud, but the assistant prosecuting attorney on the case did not have any of the details. He also said the plea offer was made with the approval of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
“There was a parallel proceeding with DHHS where Ms. Rhodes was agreeing to give up her child care center license and not provide child care as part of that agreement,” Becker wrote in an email to Target 8. “In addition to that she would agree to pay full restitution… Generally, in these cases the main concern is to get an agreement to pay the money back. DHHS wanted this agreement to go forward. The plea to the misdemeanor offers accomplishes this, and she would not be able to get an expungement later on.”
The Child Development and Care program told Target 8 that Rhodes has already repaid 88 percent of the overages she had previously received.
A new operator has obtained a license and is now running Alphabet Soup