Day-care operator pleads guilty to fraud

Tianna Edwards had been charged with wire fraud.
Tianna Edwards had been charged with wire fraud.
Posted: July 12, 2014

A North Philadelphia day-care operator awaiting trial for her role in the death of a 7-year-old in her care told a federal judge Thursday that she used her sister-in-law's identity to hide her extensive criminal past and obtain a state license.

Tianna Edwards pleaded guilty to five counts of wire fraud. Prosecutors said her business, Tianna's Terrific Tots, received more than $1.4 million in state subsidies from 2008 to 2011 - money she would not have received had the state known about her convictions for insurance fraud, shoplifting, and providing false identification to law enforcement.

Edwards' day-care center came under scrutiny in 2012, when one of its wards, 7-year-old Isear Jeffcoat, died in a jammed and filthy swimming pool. While Edwards maintained that she was at the business going over payroll records at the time, police allege she was gambling at the SugarHouse Casino as Isear drowned.

Edwards admitted her guilt Thursday in a hearing before U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez. Edwards told the judge she is receiving treatment behind bars for post-traumatic stress disorder and struggles with alcoholism.

She has remained in custody on state manslaughter charges since June 2013. Her guilty plea came as part of a separate federal case filed last month.

The case stemmed from an investigation by the Department of Public Welfare last year that cataloged not only Edwards' lapses as a day-care operator, but also the failure of its own employees to act on red flags surrounding her business.

Month after month, the state fielded complaints about the day care center's two locations - one on Germantown Avenue, the other on Rising Sun Avenue - including allegations that Edwards was posing as her sister-in-law, that drugs were being sold out of the facilities, and that an employee once ran through the center with a gun. Some of those claims were never investigated.

State officials ultimately shut down the business' Germantown location for fire-safety violations, broken furniture, and unqualified staff, and cited Edwards for "gross incompetence, negligence, and misconduct." Still, the Rising Sun location remained open until the child died there on June 29, 2012.

Edwards is scheduled for trial on the manslaughter charge this fall. She also is accused in separate cases: one for collecting welfare while hiding the income she received from the state in her sister-in-law's name, and another for cashing a check stolen from a church.

As a result of her guilty plea Thursday, she is also likely to face new prison time for violating the terms of her probation from a 2012 insurance fraud case, in which she was found guilty of torching a Jaguar she bought in her sister's name.

She is scheduled for sentencing in her federal case in October.


jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-925-2649 @jeremyrroebuck

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