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In Wis., Drug Dealers Use Taxpayer-Funded Day Care as Cover

This is one of our editors' picks from our ongoing roundup of Investigations Elsewhere.

(flickr user stan)Drug dealers in Wisconsin have discovered an enterprising, and apparently logical, cover for their operations, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: day-care centers. People are expected to come and go at odd hours, and there’s an added incentive of access to a $350 million pot of taxpayer money with “lax supervision.”

An ongoing Journal Sentinel investigative series has found “rampant fraud” in the state’s child-care subsidy program. Since 2006, the paper reported, 16 day-care centers tied to drug operations have been paid more than $8.5 million in state subsidies. Those centers “have been used to stash and transport drugs, launder dirty cash and provide fake employment for criminals -- at taxpayers' expense.”

The connections are apparently well known -- to some. A veteran gang and drug prosecutor with the U.S. attorney's office said that nearly a quarter of his cases involve a wife or a girlfriend in the day-care business. But officials from the state’s Department of Children and Families said they were unaware of the specific drug ties until questioned by the paper.  

The problem, it seems, is tunnel vision. Police don’t go after child-care centers that turn up in their drug cases because they’re peripheral to their primary goal, and day-care inspectors rarely substantiate drug-related complaints, according to the Journal Sentinel. “This department does not investigate drug usage,” one inspector scrawled in a case report.

In September, the FBI and law enforcement agencies at all levels of government teamed up with the Department of Children and Families to combat fraud in the child-care program, and it expects to tackle drug crimes along the way.

"We will not accept providers who place children in harm's way, and if we find out they have, we will shut them down," said Reggie Bicha, secretary of the department.

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