The head of a statewide chain of daycare centers has pleaded guilty to stealing millions from a federal program that feeds needy children.
38-year-old Antonio Hurt was CEO of Bright Star Daycare and Early Learning Centers with nearly a dozen centers around the state.
He pleaded guilty to defrauding the Child and Adult Care Food Program of almost $2 million over a two-year period.
The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) is the state agency responsible for administering that program. Its commissioner, Bobby Cagle, says a random audit detected the fraud. “He was pretty smart in the way that he went about the scam that he was pulling,” said Cagle. “He began by just adding a few children to the rolls: things that wouldn’t really attract attention. And over time [he] became pretty bold in what he did and claimed many more children than actually were being fed in the program.”
It is the largest amount of money stolen from the program since DECAL began oversight nearly ten years ago.
Cagle says, because of this case, over the last three years his department has started using computer algorithms to scan for data indicators of possible fraud. It has also beefed up internal audits and now hires external auditors when there is a red flag.
Hurt will be sentenced in June. Cagle says, according to Hurt’s plea agreement, he will also have to pay more than $1.5 million in restitution.