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Guilty pleas in child care program fraud scheme

June 8, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Seven defendants have pleaded guilty to crimes involving scamming money from the Riverside County Office of Education child care program.

The child care program provides money for needy families to pay for child care, either in-home or for a daycare facility.

Two of the accused defendants are former Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE) employees.

Esmeralda Martinez is accused of misappropriation of funds. Stephanie Vega pleaded guilty to nine felonies, including misappropriation of funds, embezzlement by a public officer, grand theft and conspiracy to commit fraud.

Martinez and Vega allegedly used their authority to appropriate funds for the child care program to allot federal and state money to fraudulent individuals for their own financial gain.

Vega is accused of using her family members on some of the allotments.

The scheme was discovered when Vega's husband, in the course of a divorce, found documents and cash in a closet indicating the fraudulent activities.

Vega's father, Alberto Luna; her sister-in-law, Toni Luna; her stepmother, Camilla Wright Luna; and a seventh defendant, Brenda Acosta, have all entered guilty pleas related to the case.

The scheme allegedly netted $527,940 from the child care program.

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