Guilt by association

Sacramento woman may lose child-care license after FBI raids her home

Some days it pays not to get out of bed.

At 8:30 a.m. on June 21, 2007, a team of FBI agents burst into Sacramento area resident Mechelle Mann’s home to arrest her husband for his alleged participation in a multimillion-dollar wire fraud scheme. The agents rousted the couple out of bed at gunpoint. Standing in the hallway, Mann informed them of the obvious.

“What is wrong with you?” she exclaimed. “Can’t you see this is a licensed day-care center?” The agents, she recalls, simply bugged out their eyes at her.

There really was no reason for the agents not to know. Donald Mann and business partner Ronald Grove had been under investigation for alleged wire and mail deception since at least April 2006, when agents raided their Foothill Farms office. It’s no secret that Mechelle Mann has been living and operating a day-care center in the same home since 1992.

“We weren’t hiding,” Mann says. “We’ve been right here the whole time.”

At any rate, with pistols drawn, the agents—she says there were seven of them—herded Mann’s adult daughter and the half-dozen kids she was watching into the backyard. They grilled Mann at the kitchen table for an hour, then handcuffed her husband and carted him off.

Special Agent Steve Dupre, spokesman for the FBI’s Sacramento field office, described Mann’s arrest as standard operating procedure.

“All of our white-collar crime suspects, when we go to arrest them, it’s one of the most dangerous situations an agent can encounter,” he said, adding that agents are trained to take precautions whenever children are present at an arrest.

If that had been the end of the story, Mann might have left it at that. But soon after her husband’s arrest, she says she began running afoul with the Sacramento County Department of Social Services, which among other things, licenses day-care centers. Because of numerous alleged code violations that have accumulated since her husband’s arrest, a DSS administrative law judge will determine if her day-care license should be revoked at a hearing on March 6.

The charges are the result of both anonymous complaints and DSS inspections. According to court documents, they’re mostly the sort of violations you’d expect to find in a day-care home—an open bottle of household cleaner here, an expired fire extinguisher there. Nothing worth losing your license over.

However, two charges stand out. The first, of course, is the FBI’s raid on her home in June 2007, which Mann failed to report to the licensing agency. But the DSS didn’t stop there. It reached clean back to 1997, and discovered that Donald Mann had been convicted of a misdemeanor after he and Mechelle got into a domestic dispute, which was also not disclosed. The couple divorced for three years, but remarried in 2000.

DSS spokesperson Lizelda Lopez could not comment specifically on the case. But according to the department’s allegations, either charge is enough to revoke Mann’s day-care license.

For her, the two years since her husband’s arrest have been a nightmare. Don had to move out shortly after the arrest, because there was no telling if and when the FBI might come back. Despite the millions he and his business partner allegedly squirreled away, he’s currently making ends meet by fixing up foreclosed homes for banks to resell. At night, he sleeps in whatever home he’s working on or in his pickup truck. Bernie Madoff he ain’t.

Mechelle Mann wasn’t involved in her husband’s business dealings and hasn’t been charged with anything, but she feels she’s paying the price for his alleged crimes. The FBI is still trying to make the case against Don; the trial is scheduled for August. Her reckoning may come as early as this week, when the DSS determines whether she can continue to own and operate a day-care center.

Although there’s no evidence to support her claim, she’s convinced that the DSS charges and her husband’s legal trouble are linked. It’s not hard to blame her for feeling suspicious. She’s on the verge of losing her marriage and her livelihood. It’s a wonder she can get up in the morning.