A federal judge Thursday gave stiff prison sentences to two social service agency managers convicted of fraud charges stemming from the 2006 death of teenager Danieal Kelly.
"There is no evidence that even to this day, the defendant appreciates the enormity of her crime," U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell said as he ordered Mickal Kamuvaka to serve 171/2 years. An angry Dalzell described her conduct as "utter depravity."
Solomon Manamela, like Kamuvaka a co-founder of the agency, received a 14-year sentence. Both were convicted in March of orchestrating the fabrication of hundreds of reports purporting to describe home visits that never occurred.
After leaning over a courtroom barrier to embrace family members and friends, Kamuvaka was taken into custody. Her only words at the hearing were "No thank you, your honor" when asked if she wanted to address the judge.
Dalzell also criticized the city for its failure to adequately oversee MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc.
Its caseworkers were supposed to ensure the health and safety of at-risk children, including the 14-year-old Kelly, who had cerebral palsy.
Instead, home visits were skipped, agency records were faked, and Kelly died of malnutrition and bedsores in her mother's home.
Kamuvaka's walk from courtroom to prison was a steep fall for a woman who immigrated from Namibia in the 1970s, when she received a scholarship to Cornell University.
She completed graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work in 1984, her attorney said.
She founded MultiEthnic with three other people in 2000.
Dalzell called its contract with the city's Department of Health and Human Services between 2000 and 2006 "simple patronage."
He denounced DHS for giving MultiEthnic six weeks' notice of city audits. A few days before auditors arrived, MultiEthnic was told which client files would be checked, Dalzell said.
That allowed MultiEthnic to fabricate reports making it appear that caseworkers were consistently visiting homes, when the required parent and child interviews were frequently skipped.
"It's laughable to say there was an audit. . . . If there had been a single surprise audit, this would have been detected" said the judge. "It was easy to detect, but nobody bothered to try."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bea L. Witzleben asked Dalzell to give Kamuvaka 20 years, which she conceded would effectively be a "life sentence," as there is no parole in the federal system.
Kamuvaka will be 78 before she can leave prison, but her legal woes are not over. She faces a November trial on a charge of involuntary manslaughter, as does caseworker Julius Juma Murray, 52, who was assigned to the Kelly family and was convicted along with Kamuvaka.
State, city, and federal investigations after Kelly's death prompted an overhaul of the agency, which has 1,800 employees who oversee about 100,000 children receiving varying degrees of care.
It has established new oversight policies, said Anne Marie Ambrose, who took over as commissioner after the scandal.
"I can say I truly believe DHS is different agency," she said. "Many of the judge's criticisms were completely valid, which is why we have created a whole new division of performance management and accountability."
According to testimony, the federal inquiry was launched after an investigator from the federal Department of Health and Human Services read a lengthy article in The Inquirer about Kelly's death.
Her death, and other failings earlier reported by The Inquirer, prompted Mayor John F. Street to fire top DHS managers.
Mayor Nutter later discharged other employees and installed Ambrose as head of the agency.
About a dozen friends and former students of Kamuvaka praised her to Dalzell on Thursday.
A former dean of the School of Social Work appeared, as did a half-dozen former students from Lincoln University, where she taught social work.
"My entire world lit up" being a student of Kamuvaka's, said Nzinga Oneferua-el, a Philadelphian who returned to college as an adult. "When you look at the last couple of years, she has paid so much," Oneferua-el said.
Both Kamuvaka and Manamela are virtually destitute. Kamuvaka has depended on friends for financial support, said defense attorney William Cannon.
Manamela came to the United States in 1984 from South Africa, where he was active in the anti-apartheid movement. He earned a master's in social work. Recently, he has been working as a dishwasher, said defense attorney Paul J. Hetznecker.
In heavily accented English, an impassioned Manamela said he had dedicated his life to social work.
"What did go wrong?" Dazell asked.
"I still have difficulty telling you what went wrong," replied Manamela. "Some part of it was poor oversight . . . I didn't come to the U.S. to steal. I love this country."
Moments later, he hugged his former wife and his two sons, and was taken into custody.