Social-service official pleads in fraud case

June 10, 2009 10:55:36 AM PDT
A social-services contractor admitted Wednesday that she helped forge documents and failed to supervise case workers, a lapse that prosecutors say contributed to the starvation death of a Philadelphia girl. Manuelita Buenaflor, 65, of Philadelphia became the first official with MultiEthnic Behavioral Services to enter a plea in the case, although two underlings have signed guilty pleas.

The city paid MultiEthnic a $1 million a year to visit at-risk children like Danieal Kelly, a disabled girl who lived in a chaotic home with an unfit mother, and make sure they were receiving needed services.

MultiEthnic documents suggest they made the required visits with Danieal, a 14-year-old with cerebral palsy. But she had severe bed sores, weighed just 42 pounds and had long stopped going to school when her maggot-infested body was found in the squalid, stifling home in August 2006.

Buenaflor's lawyer said her client's crimes were unintentional and that she did not foresee the consequences.

"She thought a lot of the time that they were making (the visits) and just not doing the paperwork. Toward the end, she realized they were not making them," lawyer Gina Capuano said after the hearing.

Buenaflor, who has doctoral degrees in theology and child development, pleaded guilty to two fraud counts and conspiracy. She has agreed to testify against her co-defendants - including MultiEthnic co-founders Michal Kamuvaka, Solomon Manamela and Earle McNeill, all of Philadelphia - who have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial in November.

"She's a supervisor who has agreed to take responsibility for what went on at the company," Assistant U.S. Attorney Bea Witzleben said.

MultiEthnic was created in about 2001 to bid on a contract to take on the city's most complex social-services cases. Prosecutors have said the firm had frequent turnover and sometimes relied on student interns to make the visits and try to arrange services.

Case worker Christiana Nimpson became the first MultiEthnic worker to plead in the case on Tuesday, and another employee is set to plead next week.

Kelly's mother, Andrea Kelly, is serving a 20- to 40-year state term for third-degree murder. Her father, Daniel, is charged with child endangerment for allegedly abandoning the girl.

Although prosecutors faulted the city's Department of Human Services for not properly monitoring MultiEthnic's contract, and two top commissioners were ousted after Danieal's death, no one in the agency was criminally charged.

Buenaflor faces several years in prison under federal guidelines. Her sentencing was set for Sept. 25.

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