Two administrators and two caseworkers from a city-funded social service agency were convicted yesterday of health-care fraud and conspiracy charges stemming from the death of Danieal Kelly, the 14-year-old with cerebral palsy who died of bedsores and malnutrition at her mother's apartment.
While the verdicts ended a monthlong federal trial, they are not the final legal acts stemming from the West Philadelphia girl's death in August 2006 and the ensuing investigations into the agency, MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., and the city's Department of Human Services.
Mickal Kamuvaka, 60, a MultiEthnic founder who served as day-to-day manager, had no reaction as the verdict was read and declined to comment afterward. She still faces a city charge of involuntary manslaughter, as does caseworker Julius Juma Murray, 52, who was assigned to the Kelly family and also was convicted yesterday. Murray also faces trial on federal immigration charges.
An overhaul of the Department of Human Services that started after The Inquirer's reporting of treatment failures in Kelly's death is continuing. DHS used federal funding to have MultiEthnic provide in-home care for the teen and other at-risk children.
The U.S. District Court jury of seven men and five women also convicted Solomon Manamela, 52, another agency founder, and caseworker Mariam Coulibaly, 42.
Coulibaly was acquitted on three of 20 charges, and Murray was acquitted on three of 19 charges.
The four face sentences ranging from three to more than seven years in prison.
According to testimony, the federal investigation started after William McDonald, a criminal investigator from the state Department of Health and Human Services, read a lengthy article in The Inquirer about Kelly's death.
The fallout from that death, and other failings earlier reported by The Inquirer, prompted then-Mayor John F. Street to fire the commissioner and top deputy of DHS. Mayor Nutter later discharged other employees and installed a child advocate, Anne Marie Ambrose, as DHS commissioner.
According to Murray and agency records, he visited the West Philadelphia home on July 24, 2006, less than two weeks before Kelly died Aug. 4. But prosecution witnesses testified that the odor from Kelly's massive bedsores - the odor of decaying flesh - would have been impossible to miss.
The jury found that the defendants fabricated paperwork for home visits that never happened, and that when a federal investigation started, they tossed out or shredded documents sought by the government.
"Danieal Kelly starved and, to put it bluntly, rotted to death in her bed," Assistant U.S. Attorney Bea Witzleben said after the verdict. Deliberations extended over parts of two days.
From July 2000 through December 2006, the city paid MultiEthnic about $3.7 million for services it was supposed to have provided to more than 500 families.
Some of those services were delivered, defense witnesses testified.
"We've never alleged they provided no services at all," said Witzleben, who prosecuted the case with Assistant U.S. Attorney Vineet Gauri. Rather, she said, agency workers encountered some cases "that were very difficult to work with . . . and they chose not to do so."
Kelly's mother, Andrea, was caring for eight of nine children in the first floor of a rowhouse in the Mantua neighborhood. She pleaded guilty in state court to third-degree murder and child endangerment, and was sentenced to up to 40 years in state prison.
Yesterday, Ambrose said DHS, which has 1,800 employees and 100,000 children receiving varying degrees of care, has overhauled the in-home services program, established new oversight policies, and is setting up a program to expand checks on families receiving care from private contractors.
"We've tried to really create a culture of responsibility," she said.
The head of a nonprofit agency that offers legal representation to children in DHS said the agency still had issues to resolve - including how complex cases like Kelly's are managed - but agreed there had been extensive improvements.
Frank P. Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, said that the circumstances of Kelly's death were an aberration, but that the agency's failure to adequately oversee contractors was not unusual. He said that shortcoming had been improved under Ambrose.
"I feel much more confident," he said.
Testimony from coworkers described Kamuvaka and Manamela as frequently failing to provide training and supervision to agency workers. Kamuvaka, in particular, was said to have condoned the creation of false records.
Her attorney, William Cannon, said Kamuvaka "was very disappointed" by the verdict and repeated his courtroom defense that she and other managers had been the victims of their own staff, "social workers who did her in" by faking reports and not providing services.
Paul J. Hetznecker, Manamela's attorney, said his client had been "scammed" by his own employees, though he conceded there was "significant" mismanagement.
"But that doesn't take away from the dedication Solomon Manamela has had" to social work, Hetznecker said. Kamuvaka holds a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, and like Manamela has had a career in social work.
Manamela and Coulibaly also declined to comment. Murray is being held on the federal immigration charges.