Friday, 08 October 2010 00:00
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced on Oct. 4 that the owner, the former assistant director and corporation that operates the Hicksville child daycare facility, Carousel Day School, where 2-year-old Olivia Raspanti died in March 2009 after choking on a carrot, have pleaded guilty to criminal charges.
In addition to agreeing to State licensing requirements, sweeping safety improvements and more stringent oversight by the New York State Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS), the owner and former director of the school pleaded guilty to Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree. As part of the plea agreement, the center must remain licensed and subject to the requirements of OCFS, including the fact that neither of the defendants are permitted to resume their former positions at the school.
Carousel Day School owner/director Eugene Formica, 65, of Hicksville, pleaded guilty to Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree. Carousel Day School, by its attorney Marc Gann, pleaded guilty to Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree and running an unlicensed child daycare center for both toddlers and for preschoolers (Social Services Law 390). Former assistant director Kathryn Cordaro, 53, also of Hicksville, pleaded guilty to one count of running an unlicensed child daycare center for toddlers.
According to the DA, in exchange for their guilty pleas, Formica will be sentenced to three years probation, Cordaro will receive a conditional discharge and Carousel Day School will pay a $15,000 fine.
Under the plea agreement, Rice said, Carousel must remain licensed by OCFS for three years and cannot use the current loopholes in state law to avoid oversight. More importantly, violations of OCFS regulations can constitute a violation of Formica’s and Carousel’s sentences, resulting in jail time for Formica, who will be on probation for the next three years, and additional penalties for Carousel, said Rice. The agreement also mandates compliance by Carousel with all bus transportation regulations of the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles and NYS Department of Transportation, said the DA.
Rice said that the guilty pleas stem from the death of 2-year-old Olivia Raspanti on March 17, 2009 after she choked on a carrot she took out of her teacher’s bag. The DA’s Office, Nassau County Police Department and the New York State Office of Child and Family Services launched an investigation into her death and the existing conditions at the day care facility between 2007 and 2009.
Rice said the investigation revealed numerous areas in which the daycare facility was seriously deficient in its safety procedures, including the improper storage of staff members’ purses and bags that could contain medicines and dangerous objects meant to stay out of the reach of small children. The investigation also revealed that certain teachers and teacher’s aides were hired despite not having proper qualifications and there were not proper adult-to-student ratios, according to Rice.
The investigation further revealed, Rice said, that between 2007 and 2009, Carousel knowingly operated an illegal, unlicensed toddler program for children under 3 years old, as well as an unlicensed preschool for children ages 3 through 5. According to the DA, from at least 2007 and at the time of Olivia’s death, Formica and his company were aware of the licensing requirements and rules connected to the operation of a child daycare center, but had chosen to ignore them.
Rice said by not getting a license, illegal daycare facilities can avoid oversight of their safety procedures and can get around hiring staff that has the critical training needed to care for toddlers and preschoolers, as well as avoid regulations pertaining to proper maintenance, operation, transportation, safety, health, nutrition and staff/child ratios. Formica and Carousel were aware of licensing options and repeatedly avoided it, and thereby OCFS oversight and inspections, said Rice.
As a direct result of the criminal charges in this case, many unlicensed child daycare centers throughout New York State have applied to OCFS for licensing and have agreed to oversight by that agency. In addition, many parents and caregivers have contacted OCFS to check the qualifications of child daycare centers and/or report similar violations. As a result of this case, there have also been discussions between the DA’s office and state and local officials about closing existing loopholes which allow child daycare centers to operate without proper oversight and requiring child daycare centers to provide training in pediatric CPR.
The issuance of an OCFS license gives the state jurisdiction to make unannounced safety inspections of the facility. Carousel has also been required to increase its teacher-to-student ratio and hire more qualified staff that meets all the state requirements, including proper licensing for all of its bus drivers. At the time of the investigation, it was found that some of Carousel’s bus drivers did not possess the state-required Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
“The tragic loss for Olivia’s parents and family cannot be measured or made whole,” Rice said. “However, we believe that with this plea agreement we can achieve a maximum benefit for all involved to ensure that no other child at this daycare facility is put in harm’s way. This case has required the Carousel Day School to make significant safety changes and, most importantly, to become licensed by the state.
“This agreement will hold Carousel accountable for maintaining those changes and will make certain that there is now proper safety oversight by the state, and that the Carousel staff will have the state-mandated training and experience to care for toddlers and preschool children. If the defendants fail to maintain those changes and violate the agreement, my office will bring them back to court and request that they be sent to jail.”
“The safety of our children is the Office of Children and Family Services’ highest priority,” OCFS Commissioner Gladys Carrión said. “We urge parents to visit the OCFS website at www.ocfs.state.ny.us to find licensed and registered providers, and to learn about the compliance records of currently registered/licensed providers. We also urge anyone having concerns about child care providers to call the office on its child care complaint line, 800-732-5207.”
Chief Diane Peress and Deputy Chief Anne Donnelly of the Economic Crimes Bureau are handling the case for the DA’s Office. Marc Gann, Esq. represents Formica and Carousel. Eric Franz, Esq. represents Cordaro.