A former child care professional in Birmingham was charged Monday in the theft of nearly $200,000 from the YWCA.
Rikki Ross, 37, is charged with federal program fraud for stealing from an agency that received more than $10,000 in federal benefit annually between 2012 and 2017 through grants or other assistance, according to U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Michael Williams.
The Young Women's Christian Association of Central Alabama is a non-profit organization headquartered in Birmingham. The YWCA focuses on providing quality child development programs for children of homeless and working poor families, affordable housing, domestic violence services and social justice programming.
Ross worked as director of the YWCA Child Development Center from August 2010 until she resigned in 2017, according to a plea agreement with the government filed in association with Monday's charge.
Authorities said Ross agreed to forfeit $198,597 to the government as proceeds of illegal activity, and to pay that same amount in restitution to the YWCA.
"Stealing from any non-profit is unconscionable, but to steal program fees that were intended to provide a positive space for kids is truly indefensible," Town said. "The Secret Service did an excellent job, as always, bringing Ross to justice."
"This case highlights the excellent work the Secret Service Financial Crimes Task Force is conducting," Williams said. "This task force is a strong force-multiplier of Birmingham metro law enforcement that fights financial crimes affecting our community."
YWCA officials released this statement following the announcement of the arrest: "Although we cannot speak to any specifics since this is a police matter, we want to assure our parents and community partners that this has not and will not affect the quality of care we provide children utilizing the services of the YWCA. We take our commitment to providing them the best start in life very seriously."
As part of Ross' job as the YWCA's childcare director, she was responsible for processing credit and debit card payments from parents for childcare services, according to her plea agreement.
The YWCA CDC uses Square to process debit and credit card payments. Square is a point-of-sale provider that works in conjunction with the user's smartphone or tablet device. The Square reader is a small removable magnetic stripe reader that plugs into the headset jack or Lightning port of a smartphone or tablet device.
The YWCA CDC utilized a Square account named "YWCA Child Development Center." The YWCA authorized Ross to use that account to process payments for childcare services provided at the YWCA.
In April 2012, Ross created a Square account of her own and named it "YWCA CDC," according to her plea agreement. She linked the YWCA CDC account to her personal Regions Bank account.
Ross used the fraudulent Square account to charge parents and guardians for childcare services at the YWCA center, according to her plea agreement. Between April 2012 and August 2017, Ross stole more than $190,000 intended as payment for childcare services at the YWCA.
The maximum penalty for federal program fraud is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The Secret Service investigated the case in conjunction with the Birmingham Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robin Beardsley Mark is prosecuting the case.
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