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Ex-Head Start leaders charged with theft

The two women plead not guilty to allegations that they embezzled about $70,000 of the program's funds.

By Associated Press
Published September 18, 2005

JACKSONVILLE - Two former Head Start officers have pleaded not guilty to a nine-count indictment alleging they stole more than $70,000 from the nonprofit program designed to help poor children.

Francesca Whitener, 50, of Jasper and Lisa Holliday, 43, of Lake City were indicted Friday on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and theft of federal funds. They could get 75 years in prison and be fined $1.5 million apiece if convicted of all charges, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Each appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Howard Snyder in Jacksonville on Friday and were released on the conditions that they do not leave Florida or contact former co-workers.

"They ... were aware of the investigation and aware that charges were forthcoming and didn't flee," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale Campion, who requested the women be freed pending trial.

The two worked for Suwannee Valley Community Coordinated Child Care, and allegedly diverted money from that agency to buy personal electronic equipment, trailers and household items from July 2002 through this March, when both women resigned.

Investigators say Whitener traveled to Biloxi, Miss., for a nonexistent Head Start conference and decorated her home with $1,400 worth of African slate tile; that Holliday used government money to travel to Daytona Beach and buy a Panasonic camera and security equipment worth about $4,000; and that $1,400 high-definition televisions and trips to Reno, Nev., were also paid for with government funds.

The agency serves about 430 children.

[Last modified September 18, 2005, 02:15:36]

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