October 29, 2020

Ex-church preschool director arrested for allegedly embezzling money

State Auditor Shad White announced Special Agents from his office have arrested Jan Coleman, former director of the Hazlehurst United Methodist Church Child Care & Preschool, after she was indicted for one count of fraud in connection with a state or federally funded program and one count of embezzlement by a grand jury assembled by District Attorney for the Mississippi 22nd District Alexander Martin.

At the time of her arrest, agents delivered a demand letter worth $10,187.53 to Coleman for the cost of the investigation.

The Early Childhood Care & Development division of the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) administers public funds directly to childcare providers to subsidize the cost to qualified families.

Coleman is accused of making fraudulent claims to MDHS for children who were not enrolled in the childcare service she directed at the time she filed the claims. Coleman allegedly submitted multiple fraudulent claims worth over $75,000 from November 2014 to July 2018.

Hazlehurst United Methodist Church Child Care & Preschool terminated Coleman in July 2018. The alleged fraud was then discovered and self-reported by the childcare provider. The case was originally investigated by MDHS. It was referred to the Auditor’s office by the Mississippi Attorney General.

To recover the loss of public funds, MDHS is withholding funding from the childcare provider.

“Coleman defrauded the taxpayers for far too long and took advantage of money intended for the benefit of children,” Auditor White said. “I am thankful for the cooperation of the various state agencies and the district attorney for our coordinated efforts in bringing her to justice.”

No surety bond covered Coleman’s employment. A surety bond is similar to insurance designed to protect taxpayers from embezzlement and corruption. Coleman will remain liable for the full amount of the demand in addition to criminal charges.

If convicted, Coleman faces up to 13 years in prison and $35,000 in fines. All persons arrested by the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The case will be prosecuted by the office of District Attorney Martin.

Suspected fraud can be reported to the Auditor’s office online any time by clicking the red button at www.osa.ms.gov or via telephone during normal business hours at 1-(800)-321-1275.