A Minneapolis child care center with a history of safety violations is being investigated by federal and state authorities for possible financial fraud.
The FBI and the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) executed a search warrant Wednesday morning at Salama Child Care Center at 1411 Nicollet Av. near downtown Minneapolis. Families of children at the facility were turned away for a time as authorities from both agencies carried out computers, boxes and folders of documents to waiting vans.
Officials from DHS, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Minneapolis all declined to comment on the nature of the investigation except to confirm that a search warrant was executed. The Internal Revenue Service is also said to be part of the probe. By late afternoon, the visitors’ lobby was packed with children and their parents, who insisted they knew nothing of the investigation.
Nationwide, federal agencies and local prosecutors have been cracking down on child care centers for defrauding government-funded child care assistance programs by billing for services not provided, and for inflating the number of children in care and the hours that the children actually attended. In December, the Fridley-based owners of Deqo family centers were charged with defrauding the state of $4 million by falsifying work records and recruiting mothers eligible for state-funded child care to enroll their children in their child care centers.
The Salama Child Care Center, which was first licensed in 2009 to serve up to 60 children, including infants and toddlers, has a history of regulatory problems with the state.
Since 2011, the center has been hit with three correction orders for various child safety and record violations, according to state records. In a 2011 inspection, for instance, DHS officials found children were not properly supervised; meals did not meet minimum daily nutritional guidelines; and children were exposed to multiple hazards, including electrical cords and a hot steam table. In 2013, DHS cited the center for failing to keep basic information in children’s files and for failing to keep documentation showing that six staff received training in shaken baby syndrome before caring for children under school age, according to state records.
In addition, the Salama Child Care Center in St. Cloud, an affiliate of the Minneapolis center, had its license revoked in June 2013 for “serious and chronic violations of licensing standards,” including substantiated neglect of a child, according to DHS. State investigators found that a 4-year-old child had wandered from the facility to the parking lot of a nearby dry cleaner, where a customer almost hit the child with a car. Staff thought the toddler was sleeping and did not realize the child was missing for one and a half hours, according to state records.
In the ensuing investigation, the facility was cited for knowingly providing false and misleading information to DHS.
Ardo Diriye is listed as the chief executive of Salama Child Care Center Inc. Telephone calls to the child care center were not returned Wednesday and the company’s website was shut down.
A woman at the front desk who identified herself as an employee threatened to call the police when asked for information by a Star Tribune reporter.
Chris Serres: 612-673-4308
Staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report