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Nanny allegedly dumped kids at day care

She is accused of leaving at least 10 children at an unlicensed facility in Hollywood.

October 04, 2008|Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writer

Kim Lewis remembers feeling lucky when Patricia Villamarin agreed to become the nanny for her 3-month-old twins six years ago.

The attorney was impressed by Villamarin's resume touting her experience watching over twins and was pleased when the nanny recounted their many "enriching" trips to the aquarium, farmers markets, parks and libraries.

Then she found out that she was a victim of what authorities now describe as an elaborate fraud.

The Los Angeles city attorney's office this week accused Villamarin of running a five-year scheme in which she agreed to care for children in the Hancock Park and Larchmont areas, but dumped them off at an unlicensed day-care center in a Hollywood apartment so she could work selling produce.

The misdemeanor grand theft charges against her name five families, each with two children placed in her care, including Lewis' twins. But authorities said they believe up to 30 children could be involved, and the investigation is continuing.

Villamarin, 38, allegedly told parents she wanted to expose their children to various cultural activities as an excuse to get them out of the house. Once she received permission to take the children out, she allegedly dropped them off at the apartment and went to work selling fruit at a farmers market in Chinatown.

Sometimes she dropped off children from multiple families, according to prosecutor Will Rivera. When she returned for the children at the end of the day, Villamarin would pay the woman running the unlicensed day care between $5 and $10 for each child. Villamarin ended up making "tens of thousands of dollars," Rivera said, because the parents paid her between $12 and $16 an hour for each child.

In an interview Friday, Villamarin said she was shocked at the charges, which she said were overblown. She said she was simply getting help from a friend to look after all the kids.

"I didn't do any second business. I don't do that," she said. "It's supposed to be over. And I don't care for no more kids. I don't want no more problems."

But the charges leave Lewis feeling betrayed.

"I treated her like a member of my family. I trusted her with my children, who are the most precious things in my life," she said. "I believed she was a good person, and I was shocked to find out that I could have been so wrong about somebody."

Lewis got Villamarin's name from another parent at a support group for families with twins or other multiple children. Lewis said that she and Villamarin hit it off right away and that she came to trust and respect the nanny. Villamarin would often be charged with caring for the kids all day and even into the night when Lewis was working late.

Over the years, Lewis and her partner became close to Villamarin's family, even attending her two daughters' quinceaneras. Villamarin's mother also worked for Lewis, cleaning her home once a week.

Lewis said she later found it strange when her kids spoke of napping in the "library," but Villamarin often corrected the children, implying that they had misspoken. So Lewis didn't think anything was wrong, until she was told by another parent who used Villamarin that something was seriously amiss.

"I was trying to convince myself this couldn't have happened, but as I've since learned, it has happened," Lewis said.

Authorities said the alleged scheme began to crumble in May 2007, when Villamarin decided to start taking Thursdays off while working for a family with 6-month-old twins.

She negotiated the hiring of an "assistant nanny" named Blanca Mendez, whom she had met at a Jewish community center, Rivera said. Villamarin allegedly told Mendez, "Tell them I'm your relative, let me do the talking. We'll get you hired, and you'll work for them on Thursdays," Rivera said. "So it was deceitful from the beginning."

Prosecutors said Mendez knew what Villamarin was doing. In October 2007, she sent the parents an e-mail telling them what was going on. The next day she took the parents to the Hollywood apartment, where they found their twins propped on a mattress with several other children, according to the city attorney's office. When Villamarin went to pick up the kids that day, she found the parents waiting there.

The woman who ran the unlicensed facility is cooperating with authorities as a witness, and she will help identify the children who were left in her care, Rivera said. No charges have been filed against her.

Villamarin insisted that she provided good care for the children. She said the prosecutors were wrong about her working at the produce market. Rather, she said, she went their frequently as a customer to get good deals for the families and to buy food to cook meals for them.

"I went to get fruit, because I buy fruit for them, and I buy all the vegetables," Villamarin said. "When I have to carry all the fruit, all the vegetables, it's too much for me. That's why I told the lady, 'You can help me when I pick up the fruit.' "

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