A Homestead martial arts academy and its program director falsely billed the Children's Trust nearly $300,000 for "ghost children" and "ghost employees" who never worked for or attended the academy, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office said.
Felony charges including organized scheme to defraud and grand theft were filed against United Martial Arts Academy, Inc. and its program director, Kelly Mendoza Regalado, the state attorney's office said Wednesday.
The Children’s Trust affords program grants aimed at serving the children and families of Miami-Dade by providing various services, particularly focusing on neighborhoods with the highest rates of poverty.
Regalado oversaw the administrative affairs of UMMA, including grant application and compliance, and invoicing the Children’s Trust, authorities said.
The alleged false grant expenses, charged at UMAA’s Trust-funded programs in Homestead, primarily related to billing for children who never attended UMAA’s Trust-funded programs and employees who never worked for UMAA, called "ghost children and ghost employees," the state attorney's office said.
"Miami-Dade taxpayers created The Children’s Trust to better the lives of our community’s at-risk children," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement. "The alleged theft of Children’s Trust funds hurts those kids who need help the most. The Children’s Trust deserves credit for bringing this matter to the attention of investigators and prosecutors who always work together to preserve taxpayer monies."
Regalado wasn't listed in Miami-Dade jail records Wednesday. Attorney information wasn't available.
"Someone sought to take advantage of funding intended to support children and their families. As soon as The Children’s Trust detected potential fraud and criminal activity, we immediately brought the issue to the Miami-Dade County Office of the Inspector General," the Children's Trust said in a statement Wednesday. "The Children’s Trust collaborated with the Office of the Inspector General during the investigation and thank them and the State Attorney's Office for their diligent and thorough investigation.”