Employees of a Head Start program in Cleveland found a surefire way to recruit the most well-behaved youngsters: They invented make-believe kids. Faced with flagging enrollment, employees of the Ministerial Day Care Association, a non-profit provider, padded 1997 class rosters with more than 60 fake names-enough extra toddlers to bring the program an additional $250,000 in state and federal funding, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported last fall. Former employees informed state and federal officials that the ruse was encouraged by the association's board of trustees, all of whom were local ministers. (The ministers responded by suing eight workers for character defamation.)
As of press time, the association still hadn't produced records documenting the services it insists it provided to approximately 1,600 children in 1997. In a letter, association officials informed investigators that the files were lost, destroyed, or stolen.
Head Start fraud certainly isn't unheard-of. But rarely is it so creative. The Cleveland scandal may be matched only by the industrious director in New York who embezzled a quarter million in Head Start funds in 1999, to subsidize a film studio, a record company, and a clothing business.