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Woman who ran after-school programs charged with fraud

Dec 15 2011

A Cumberland woman who ran three after-school programs for children in the Comox Valley has been charged with defrauding the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

The RCMP said Wednesday that Victoria Ann Rutenberg, 37, allegedly shut down two of her programs in 2009, but kept billing the B.C. government ministry until this year. She also is alleged to have "grossly over-billed" for the third program, which continued to operate until May 31, police said.

Rutenberg is accused of providing fraudulent documentation on an annual and monthly basis that led to payments of $357,811.50 from the ministry's Child Care Operating Fund Program, police said.

"That's the grand total of what we believe was fraudulently paid to her based on the reportings she made monthly on the three daycares — two of which were closed in 2009," Const. Dean Biollo said in an interview.

Rutenberg faces three counts of fraud over $5,000 for alleged offences from July 1, 2009, to May 31, 2011.

The ministry declined to comment on the specific case, because it is before the courts. But, in a statement Wednesday, the ministry said it took steps in the summer to improve oversight of licensed child-care providers who receive money from its Child Care Operating Funding Program. The fund provides money based on the number students enrolled, their age and the hours of care they receive.

As of August, about 120 of 5,000 child-care providers will be subject to random audits every year, the

ministry said.

"That's in addition to the approximately 1,000 files that come to the [audit] unit's attention each year for review. These improvements are expected to help reduce the likelihood of any future suspected fraud cases."

Biollo said the case began in June when Comox Valley RCMP received a tip from a citizen concerned about the government cheques received by Rutenberg. "This individual felt it was suspicious and advised us, and we inquired as to who was issuing these cheques and kind of backtracked from there," he said.

The ministry stopped payments to Rutenberg and launched its own investigation in co-operation with police, Biollo said.

The RCMP say Rutenberg owned three programs: After School Fun, which operated at Cumberland Elementary; After School Fun Club, which operated at Royston Elementary; and Fun Club After School Care, which operated at Courtenay Elementary.

Rutenberg rented spaced at the three schools where she ran programs, but had no other affiliation with the schools, police said.

Comox Valley school superintendent Sherry Elwood declined comment in an email as the case is still open and "not connected to the school district."

Rutenberg is slated to appear in Courtenay provincial court today. The ministry said cases of suspected fraud have been relatively rare. It set up an audit unit with a criminal investigator in 2006.

"Since that time, there have been three cases of suspected fraud," the ministry said. "This is out of approximately 60,000 files the ministry's child care branch deals with each year."

lkines@timescolonist.com

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