A federal grand jury is investigating whether a social-services contractor defrauded taxpayers when it charged millions of dollars to monitor hundreds of vulnerable children - including a 14-year-old girl who died of neglect during an August heat wave.
The U.S. Attorney's Office recently sent the city a subpoena demanding copies of more than 500 files on families served by MultiEthnic Behavioral Health, which has been paid $3.6 million since 2001 to check on children and families for the Department of Human Services, city officials said yesterday.
One official estimated that the request could cover as many as 650,000 documents, including information about how MultiEthnic's contract was awarded and monitored.
Officials said the city was also cooperating with a separate investigation by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office into the death of Danieal Kelly, the girl with cerebral palsy who wasted away in August while MultiEthnic social workers were supposed to be making weekly visits to her home.
That investigation is examining possible criminal culpability in Danieal 's death, while the federal inquiry is looking into possible fraud related to federal money that flowed through DHS, city officials and others said.
"The City of Philadelphia is cooperating with the U.S. Attorney's Office in connection with its investigation of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc. and Dr. Earle McNeill," said City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr., reading a prepared statement and referring to the agency's executive director.
He said the city terminated its contract with MultiEthnic on Oct. 6 for "failure to meet performance requirements under that contract."
Diaz declined to comment further, and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said he could not comment. A lawyer for McNeill and MultiEthnic, Luther E. Weaver III, could not be reached for comment when the news broke after business hours. He had previously asked that all inquiries to McNeill be directed to him.
In an interview last month, Weaver said, "MultiEthnic complied fully with all DHS procedures as required by their contract. When the full story comes out concerning this family, it will be demonstrated that MultiEthnic and its employees were not responsible for the death of Danieal Kelly."
Frank P. Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates in Philadelphia and a member of a new mayoral panel that will investigate recent child deaths on DHS caseloads, said he was glad to hear of the two investigations.
"All parties are innocent until found guilty," he said, "but it's hard to believe there was not a reckless disregard for life and well-being, and that's criminal."
The Inquirer reported last month that MultiEthnic was paid by DHS for nearly 10 months to provide services to the Kelly family, a mother and her nine children crammed into a stifling Mantua apartment. Among the children was Danieal , who was bedridden and partially paralyzed.
She weighed just 42 pounds when she died, according to a secret DHS death review seen by The Inquirer, and she was found with maggot-infested bedsores that exposed her bones. Her stomach was empty of fluids and food, the death review said. No charges have been filed.
The Inquirer also reported last month that MultiEthnic filed documents with the city that appear to describe meetings with another teen, Braheem Burke, after he had become a fugitive on double murder charges. Philadelphia homicide detectives, who tried to catch Burke at his house three times, said they did not believe those meetings took place.
MultiEthnic director McNeill is a licensed psychologist and certified clinical social worker who holds a doctorate in education from Boston University and a master's in social work from the University of Pennsylvania, his resume says.
McNeill's resume lists an array of contracts with government agencies and nonprofit organizations. He heads a company called Urban Health Services Inc., which had a three-year contract to provide counseling and substance-abuse treatment to SEPTA employees. The contract expired in 1999 and was not renewed, according to SEPTA spokesman Rich Maloney. It was put out to bid and MultiEthnic lost to a competing firm, he said.
In addition to SEPTA, that company performed work for the City of Wilmington and served as a consultant to the DuPont Co., according to McNeill's resume.
In his resume, McNeill said he and companies he is associated with have provided psychological evaluations for prisoners under a contract with the state Department of Corrections, run alcohol-treatment programs for teens, and offered mental-health treatment to children and adults. He also has offered parenting classes and worked with troubled young people.
Until last week, McNeill also did psychological evaluations for Intercultural Family Services, a nonprofit human-services agency that holds nearly $3 million in current contracts with DHS to assist at-risk families and children.
"He did good work for us," said Myra Brown, Intercultural's deputy executive director. She said McNeill's affiliation with the group ended abruptly last week, when he sent a letter saying he was resigning "for health reasons."
Contact staff writer Ken Dilanian at 215-854-4779 or email@example.com.
Inquirer staff writer John Shiffman contributed to this article.