A worker charged with child endangerment after she and a co-worker were found caring for nearly two dozen children in an illegally run day care was cleared of charges against her Tuesday by a Prince William County judge, according to attorneys in the case.
Mendez and a co-worker, Yolanda G. Larin, 50, were in the house caring for 23 children at the time police responded to the 911 call, according to police.
She and Larin were charged with endangerment for the five youngest children, police said.
Mendez’s attorney, David Daugherty, said in an interview that the office of Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D) should not have pursued charges against Mendez. She was prepared to testify against the owners of the illegal day care, and also told the owners that they needed to hire more workers to care for the children, Daugherty said.
“When I first heard of these allegations, the death of a child, two caretakers and 23 children, my instinct was ‘Wow, this is a problem, this has got to be a crime,’” Daugherty said. “It wasn’t until I started reading the body of law that … this is not [a] crime.”
Ebert said he believed his office had a case. “We wouldn’t have brought charges if we thought she wasn’t criminally culpable, but the court disagreed and that happens,” Ebert said.
Prosecutors say they plan to drop charges against the other day-care worker, Larin.
The day care, Little Angels of the World Inc., in the 13200 block of Sapphire Ridge Place in Bristow, was marketed as a facility that offered individualized attention in a small-group setting, according to court documents and prosecutors.
Police found expired or inauthentic certificates dotting the walls, according to court documents. Parents were led to believe that there were far fewer children attending the day care than in reality, prosecutors said.
The day care’s primary owner, Rocio del Pilar Chavez Pacheco, 37, pleaded guilty to two counts of false pretenses for the false advertising and two counts of reckless endangerment of a child for the youngest children, who did not have adequate supervision. She was sentenced in October to a total of six years in prison, all of which Farris suspended, and three years of probation.
Her husband, Joan Carlo Barra, 38, who prosecutors say was less involved in the scheme, had the bulk of his charges dropped for offering an Alford plea to four counts of operating an unlicensed day care, a misdemeanor. Barra received a two-year sentence, which was suspended. He received two years of probation.
An Alford plea is not an admission of guilt but a recognition that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict.