LEE COUNTY, Fla.- The owner of a Lee County daycare is now speaking out, claiming he knew nothing about the woman he put in charge.
The director of Daniels Academy on Shire Lane, Christina Perera, was arrested last night on an out-of-county warrant.
Normally, the daycare is full of kids at this time, but the doors are locked and no one will be there for the next 90 days.
Paul Portman is the man who started Daniel's Academy 30 years ago. He said about a month ago, he set up a deal to lease the daycare to an organization called Kingdom Kids, and Holly Hawkins was in charge...or so he thought.
He had no idea about her real identity.
Moments after he discovered the daycare he built from the beginning was shut down, Portman said, "I Googled her. I Googled her name, everything. Everything that had to do with her and found nothing. But as soon as I realized what her alias name, what her real name was, then things took on a different flavor.
"This has nothing to do with Daniels Academy. We've got 25 years of a good reputation, and hopefully, when we get this mess straightened out, we'll have 25 more years of a good reputation," said Portman.
Several parents were horrifed at what happened yesterday. They said Daniels Academy was a wonderful daycare until about a month ago, when the new director took over.
On father said he alerted the Department of Children and Families.
"We were talking to Miss Holly and did not get a good vibe, so we called some people at DCF and took our son out," said Jon Jackson.
US Department of Labor agents were also on the scene investigating why some employees didn't get paid.
Perera is allegedly an convicted felon. She's now behind bars in the Lee County Jail for violating her probation, but this is not her first time in trouble with the law.
She appeared before a judge this morning and is being held by the Lee County Sheriff's Office for an outstanding warrant out of Marion County. Officials there asked Lee County to hold Perera without bond until they could get her and bring her back to Marion County. The Lee County judge granted that request this morning, holding Perera without bond for the next five business days, until Marion County picks her up.
Perera has an extensive criminal background and history, from fraud to grand theft auto, dating all the way back to 2006.
After five days, if Marion County has not picked up Perera, LCSO will release her.
Google Christina Perara, and you'll find a laundry list of offenses. In Marion County, her name was Christina Perara, then Christina Hawkins. The same in Broward County. At one time, it was Christina LaRocca. And in Lee County, finally it was Holly Hawkins.
Jessica Sands first met Perera in Ocala, Florida in 1997, after sending her stepdaughter off to Perera's first daycare venture.
"Just for kids was a really good daycare. all of sudden it just closed up one day and that was it," said Sands.
Sands never saw Perera again until 2008, when she opened Kingdom Kids Zone, once again, in Ocala. Before that, Perera bought a daycare in Broward County. Authorities say she stole the former owner's identity, to secure an $81,000 loan for Kids Zone. Sands sent her son to Kids Zone, and then her older stepdaughter got a job working for Perera. It didn't take long for them to figure out something was wrong.
"Shady stuff going on with payroll, bouncing checks, stuff getting repoed, the alarm system company she never paid them," said Sands.
About a year later, authorities got involved.
"DCF came in and said there were a few fraudulent 3 or 4 different places that she said were funding her daycares and stuff like that," said Sands.
Kids Zone was shut down after an investigation into whether perara was attempting to cheat the system, by getting tax breaks she didn't deserve. DCF investigated claims of drug use in the parking lot, as well. Since 2008, Perera has plead guilty to three separate felonies, including organized fraud over two thousand dollars, and cashing items with intent to defraud.
"Just because of the things she did in ocala, we weren't really surprised she'd do it again," said Sands.
Perera also helped direct a center in Georgia. Eventually, it was shut down for operating without a license in 2012. That's where they violated her probation the first time around, lying to authorites about her role at the center.