The owners of a daycare that once operated in Monett were sentenced in federal court last week for participating in a conspiracy to submit false documentation to receive nearly $123,000 in reimbursements for federally funded programs that were not provided, according to Matt J. Whitworth, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri.
Suzanne Smith, 57, and Stephen R. Smith, 57, who are married, and their daughters, Stephanie Smith, 31, and Christina Ann Thomas, 33, all of Bruner, were sentenced in separate hearings before U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith. The co-defendants were officers of First Steps Daycare, Inc., which did business as First Steps of Southwest Missouri, Inc. The Smith family owned and operated 10 child daycare centers in Missouri, including locations in Monett, Springfield, Nixa, Mt. Vernon, Aurora and Branson.
Suzanne Smith, the vice president of First Steps, was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison without parole. Stephanie Smith, a director of First Steps, was sentenced to five years of probation, including four months at a half-way house and six months of home detention. Suzanne and Stephanie Smith must also pay $122,987 in restitution.
Stephen Smith, the president of First Steps, was sentenced to five years of probation. Thomas, the secretary of First Steps, was sentenced to five years of probation, including six months of home detention. Stephen Smith and Thomas must also pay $12,216 in restitution.
All four defendants pleaded guilty to the federal charges of conspiracy to commit federal program fraud on Oct. 29, 2008. They each admitted that from Nov. 1, 2003, to Oct. 31, 2004 they altered meal and daycare records and inflated meal counts, thereby claiming meals and childcare costs that were never provided by First Steps.
Children who attended First Steps daycare centers qualified for subsidies through the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services, which administered the Child Care Subsidy Program funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They also qualified for subsidies through the Missouri Division of Health and Senior Services, which administered the Child and Adult Care Food Program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
This case against First Steps was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Pansing Brown. It was investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the Missouri Department of Social Services; Division of Legal Services.