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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- She pleaded guilty to theft and fraud, and on Tuesday the former operator of the daycare center involved in a fatal crash learned her sentence.
A judge sentenced Lavonia Lewars to 10 years in prison. She also must pay back the more than $205,000 she admits she stole from a state daycare program. She billed the program for more children than actually attended her centers.
In court, Lewars told the judge, "I am so very sorry for what I did. I accept full responsibility. I just beg you to give me another chance to prove myself. I know what I did was wrong and I do apologize for wasting everyone's time but I am sincerely sorry."
But tears and a plea for probation did nothing to help Lewars escape the wrath of Judge Barry Willett: "I don't think you understand yet. I don't think you have accepted responsibility. I don't think you are remorseful."
As Prosecutor John Balenovich put it, "There is an epidemic of people taking advantage of the government specifically in daycares, and it's not going to be tolerated."
The scheme was uncovered after Lewars closed Heavenly Angels. That came after a daycare van crash that killed one of her workers and injured several children. She will not face criminal charges for the crash. However, four of the victims filed civil suits which are still pending.
Getting any money from Lewars now could prove difficult. Her attorney, Dave Schuler, says she's broke: "She's lost her home. She's lost her car. She's had to file for bankruptcy. From a financial and emotional standpoint, Lavonia has hit rock bottom."
The Cabinet of Health and Family Services suspended the license of 18 other Louisville daycares -- some accused of the same fraud scheme as Lewars. As Steve Simpson with the Inspector General's Office explained, "Did the Lewars investigation break open the other cases? No, not necessarily. We were doing the investigation on others before Lewars came. That was not what opened the other cases. That's what a lot of people felt, but that's not true."
Either way, Lewars stands as the example of what could be more to come, as the judge told her, "I think you deserve to go to the penitentiary for ten years and that's where I am gong to send you. Good luck to you."