Mom jailed for welfare fraud

Jury: Unemployed mom took $20K in state child care money

Wearing pink handcuffs, Candice Neil flashed two middle fingers at a News 6 camera as court deputies escorted her to jail.  

Four days earlier, a  jury convicted the single mother of grand theft and welfare fraud after prosecutors proved that the unemployed woman lied about having a job in order to obtain more than $20,000 in state child care subsidy.

[MORE: Report public assistance fraud | News 6's original report on welfare fraud ]

“This was not an impulsive action or something that was done on the spur of the moment,” said Assistant State Attorney Robert J. Welch.  “This was very much a premeditated crime that spanned over 15 months.”

On three separate occasions, Neil reported to Florida’s Department of Children and Families that she was employed by the Itty Bitty Learning Center in Orlando, the same facility where four of her five children attended day care programs, records show.

After discovering Neil was simultaneously collecting unemployment benefits, state fraud investigators contacted the day care’s director who confirmed Neil had never worked there.

Investigators later determined Neil had submitted phony pay stubs to DCF in order to collect $20,280 in state child care subsidy designated for parents who work or attend school.

“It's not clear what (Neil) was doing while her four kids were in the day care center, but apparently nothing productive,” said Welch.  “She was making very little money.”

Roughly 65,000 children of working families seek state assistance for child care, state officials told News 6.

"There is a waiting list in the School Readiness program. And there are not limitless funds to support it," said Jack Heacock, who oversees the state’s Division of Public Assistance Fraud. "Any amount of fraud in that program is really hurting those people who could take advantage of that program.”

Circuit Court Judge Julie H. O’Kane echoed that sentiment prior to sentencing Neil to six months in the Orange County jail.

“Your kids got benefits that the jury determined they were not entitled to get,” O’Kane told Neil.  “That meant other people didn’t get those benefits.”

Last year, Neil told News 6 that she really was employed by the day care center, despite the state’s claim that Neil was unemployed.  Although Neil did not testify at her daylong trial, an acquaintance told the jury that she thought Neil was working at the child care facility.

During her sentencing, however, Neil admitted that she broke the law.

“I just want to say that I know what I did was wrong. I do accept full responsibility,” Neil told the judge.  “Whatever I've got to do to pay the money back, I will. If I've got to get two jobs I will. If I've got to get three jobs I will.”

Neil is required to reimburse the state for the $20,280.10 in childcare subsidy she stole, according to the judge’s sentencing order.

After Neil serves six months in jail, she will be put on probation for 14 years. During that time, the judge ordered Neil to pay at least $100 a month in restitution until the debt is paid.

"We're not out there trying to beat up people," said Heacock. "Our focus is to really help the taxpayer and protect the taxpayer from fraud."

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