Investigation into DCFS gift returning finds no criminal action

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - An investigation into the handling of Christmas gifts intended for area foster children turns up no criminal charges.

The Jonesboro Police Department found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of Craighead County's unit of the Department of Children and Family Services when investigating the return of numerous Christmas gifts.  However, the case file has been sent to the Second Judicial Prosecutor.  In it, a DCFS worker makes a purchase they said they later reimbursed.

"It was personal property that they purchased for themselves and took it home for their personal use," said Detective Mike Branscum, Jonesboro Police Department Criminal Investigation Division.

"There were a lot of people that were disappointed in the way that it transpired," said Sgt. Steve McDaniel.  "The thought of it might be morally or ethically wrong.  We couldn't find any criminal wrongdoing."

Sgt. McDaniel says that no written reports of exchanges were made, nor how much money was involved.  A witness in the report filed by police tells how she saw DCFS workers unwrapping presents, scanning price tags with a phone and sorting them for returns.

The workers say they were trying to "even out " what gifts children received.

Copyright 2011 KAIT. All rights reserved.

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - There are questions surrounding Christmas presents intended for children in Craighead county foster care.

An investigation is underway by the Jonesboro Police Department to determine if there was wrong-doing by individuals whose job is to protect, care and find permanent families for children in state custody.

"They were taken back before they were ever delivered," said Dia Sawyer, a Jonesboro woman who recently sponsored, or bought presents for, three children in foster care.  She bought and wrapped clothing, a comforter, digital camera--even a remote controlled helicopter.  All of the items were on wish lists made out by the children.

"I delivered my gifts on the 20th," said Sawyer.  That same day in fact just hours later, nearly all of the items she purchased were returned to the individual stores they came from:  Wal-Mart, Kohl's and TJ Max.

"Every single item, every single store had been returned on the 20th," said Sawyer.  They were returned at one store at 6pm that night and the other two stores were returned on the 22nd."

Receipts document every return made by the Department of Children and Family Services employees.  Sawyer tracked the paper trail after the digital camera was returned to Wal-Mart for cash.  Then, she called police.

"Nobody is denying that this actually happened," said Detective Mike Bran scum of the Jones Police Department, Criminal Investigation Division. "The big question is what the motive was behind exchanging the presents."

Detective Branscum says DCFS employees working out of this office scanned price tags on gifts to see where they came from and returned them.  That's not a crime, but where the money went raises some eyebrows.

"We have one situation where one of the DCFS employees used the remainder of one of the gift cards to purchase some personal property for themselves," said Det. Branscum.

Det. Branscum says there's no written documentation of where money was spent once it was received from a returned item.  Branscum says DCFS employees interviewed so far about the returns say they were "leveling the playing field" and trying to make sure siblings got equal amounts of gifts.  But, Sawyer says two of the children she bought for live at Consolidated Youth Services and are not related.

"There were some things that were taken back and either exchanged or refunded that I'm unclear as to why they would have done that," explained Det. Branscum.  "Because they are at CYS.  They don't have any siblings and didn't really have a good reason for why that stuff was taken back."

Det. Branscum isn't sure what charges, if any will be filed.  The Prosecuting Attorney's office will decide.

In the meantime, he hopes to hear from anyone else who bought gifts.  Sawyer says she spent $500 dollars and wonders if any of it made it to the kids.

"I don't think anyone has the power to open a gift and decide whether it should be given," said Sawyer, as she looked over pictures of gifts she had purchased for foster children this Christmas.

Copyright 2011 KAIT. All rights reserved.