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Social workers charged after starvation death

Prosecutors charged four company founders and four social workers of the now-defunct firm with fraud, and a ninth with perjury before a grand jury in the death of disabled teen Danieal Kelly.
/ Source: The Associated Press

By all accounts, there is blame to go around for the 2006 starvation death of disabled teenager Danieal Kelly.

Her mother pleaded guilty to murder this week for criminally neglecting the once-vivacious girl. Her case worker and a supervisor are charged with involuntary manslaughter for alleged "ghost visits" to the family's squalid home.

On Friday, federal prosecutors took aim at their entire company, MultiEthnic Behavioral Services, which had a $1 million-a-year contract with the city to provide in-home services to needy families.

"At some point, they realized they could get paid for doing nothing," U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid said at a news conference.

Magid's office charged four company founders and four social workers of the now-defunct firm with fraud, and a ninth with perjury before a grand jury.

'Almost inconceivable'
Company owners furiously forged documents before routine audits and in the panic that followed Danieal's death, the federal indictment charges. Worried supervisors tried to destroy computer evidence and client files, prosecutors said.

FBI agent Janice Fedarcyk called it "almost inconceivable" that the defendants would further risk the lives of needy children just to enrich themselves.

The defendants, including case worker Julius Murray and company co-founder Michal Kamuvaka, were expected to make initial appearances Friday afternoon in federal court.

Murray's lawyer recently said he insists he made the visits, a claim that Ed McCann, chief prosecutor in the city's homicide unit, calls "ludicrous."

Danieal, who used a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, appeared chubby-cheeked and joyous in photos taken on school outings in Arizona, where she lived with her father and stepmother.

But after the couple split, Daniel Kelly returned with Danieal to Philadelphia and abandoned her at the chaotic home of her unfit mother, who eventually had nine children living there, a city grand jury found. The father was charged last year with child endangerment.

At her plea this week, Andrea Kelly said she wished she "could have done more to save" her daughter. She denied her food, water or medical care, even when her distressed son tried to intervene.

Red flags and laying blame
District Attorney Lynne Abraham called the girl's death slow and torturous.

Family members had long sounded alarms about Danieal's demise to Andrea Kelly.

Red flags were likewise raised about MultiEthnic.

The company was formed specifically to bid on the city contract — though prosecutors said one founder had a criminal record — and took in $3.7 million from 2003 to 2006, when it dissolved in the wake of Danieal's death. It had frequent staff turnover and sometimes relied on student interns to make the visits, McCann said.

As early as 2003, clients told the Department of Human Services that the visits weren't always made, McCann said. The DHS commissioner knew about the complaints. Yet the yearly contract kept getting renewed.

"It's not just MultiEthnic's fault. It's DHS' fault, too, for not doing what they were expected to do," Abraham said Friday.

The city's top two commissioners were ousted after Danieal's death, and the department is now being revamped under new leadership, she said. Authorities considered criminal charges against DHS officials but could not make a case for them, she said Friday. Two former city social workers are charged in state court with child endangerment.

Andrea Kelly, 38, was sentenced after her plea to 20 to 40 years in prison.

The MultiEthnic founders — Kamuvaka, 60; Solomon Manamela, 51; Earle McNeill, 69; and Manuelita Buenaflor, 65, all of Philadelphia — face about six to eight years in prison if convicted, and Murray and the other four employees about three to five years.