An Arlington home day-care provider was indicted yesterday on charges of violating state licensing rules and taking money under false pretenses, after police said they found 36 children at her home although she was licensed to care for no more than five.
The provider, Minh-Hien Bui, filed federal tax returns that listed her day-care center's gross income as $242,144 for 1998, $181,979 for 1997 and $129,093 for 1996, according to an affidavit in the case.
Police went to Bui's home on North Ohio Street on June 16, when a 4-month-old girl in her care stopped breathing and later died at Arlington Hospital.
An Arlington police spokesman said yesterday that authorities still have not determined the official cause of death of the child, Elizabeth Ashley Heavey, although foul play has been ruled out. "We're still waiting for the medical examiner to make a determination," said Cpl. Justin McNaull.
An Arlington grand jury indicted Bui, 42, on charges of operating a child welfare agency without a state license, taking money under false pretenses and making a false statement on her county business tax return. Each charge is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail upon conviction.
Bui's attorney, Thomas Peter Mann, said his client intends to plead guilty to all three counts, "none of which have any bearing on the quality of her care of children. She's entering guilty pleas as a sign of good faith and to bring closure to herself, her family and her clients," Mann said. He said Bui has no intention of reopening her day-care business.
Mann said investigators have concluded that the infant in Bui's care probably died of sudden infant death syndrome.
"Arlington police authorities embarked on an investigation spanning several months in an attempt to hold Mrs. Bui responsible for the death of this little girl," Mann said. "After the entirety of the investigation was complete, and after all of the medical and scientific reports, the cause of death is inconclusive but is attributed to sudden infant death syndrome."
After the police visit in June, Mann acknowledged that his client took in more children than allowed, but he said that she used as many as five assistants, provided quality care and spent more than $70,000 to enhance the facility. Bui has been licensed to operate a day-care facility at her house since 1983.
County officials suspended Bui's home day-care license after the visits in June by police and a social worker. Virginia Taylor, the county's supervisor of child-care services, said yesterday that investigations by several agencies continue.
In an affidavit filed in Arlington Circuit Court in June, police said that Bui arranged for most of the children in her care to be absent on the day of a routine county inspection by telling most of the parents that her facility would be closed because she had a doctor's appointment.
Taylor said some of the county inspections of Bui's facility were unannounced. Asked why those surprise checks did not reveal the number of children at the home, Taylor said, "That's what we're all trying to sort out."
Police said they counted 31 children ranging in age from 1 to 7 in the basement area of the home, and five children 12 months old and younger on the main level.
The figures on the gross income that Bui reported on her federal tax returns for her business, Hien-Bui Inc., are in a second affidavit prepared by police detective Noel Hanrahan. Based on those numbers, Hanrahan wrote, "it is quite evident that Hien-Bui Inc. far exceeded their daily limits of up to five children at a time."
The detective prepared the affidavit to obtain a search warrant at the county tax office. He said there was probable cause to believe that the owner "misrepresented" the facility's gross income in county business tax filings.
The dead child's mother, Jane Ashley Heavey, said that she doesn't hold Bui responsible for her daughter's death but that she is angry over the delay in toxicology reports from the state medical examiner's office.
"It's been over three months, and we still haven't gotten those toxicology results," she said.