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Milwaukee woman gets five years prison for defrauding Wisconsin Shares child care program of $369,000

A Milwaukee woman has been sentenced to five years in prison for defrauding a state child care program of at least $369,000.

Bernice Watson, 41, must also spend 12 years under extended supervision once she's no longer behind bars. And she has to repay what she illegally took from the Wisconsin Shares day-care program for the working poor.

Watson pleaded guilty in April to billing state taxpayers for children who didn't go to her daughter's facility.

The daughter, Shartavia Adams, is scheduled to stand trial in July on similar charges.

Prosecutors said Watson created the fraud scheme at the Tender Moments care center after her own day-care license was revoked in 2003 for suspected fraud.

The Milwaukee County district attorney's office said it looked into that case but there was not enough evidence to charge her.

Watson's attorney asked for probation, saying her client has colon cancer - and sending her to prison won't solve the problems in the Wisconsin Shares program. Attorney Hazel Washington said the "rampant day care fraud" will continue unless there's a complete overhaul of the system.

Prosecutors said Watson committed the second largest theft of tax money in Milwaukee County history.

A Chicago consultant stole more than $400,000 from Milwaukee's city pension board in 2004.