Who knew the day care circuit in the city had such a seedy underbelly? Federal prosecutors have arrested eleven people, including seven New York City officials from three city agencies, for an $18 million day-care bribery ring [PDF]. The group allegedly "fraudulently obtained more than $18 million intended to help needy parents with public assistance for day care services" by bribing workers to bill the city for children who were not enrolled in the day care subsidy program. And of course, no bribery ring is complete without a sinister nickname. They called themselves "The Congregation."

City workers accepted both cash and jewelry to steer children into the corrupt Congregation's centers, and to issue permits despite space and teacher-child ratio violations. The scheme was discovered last month when a worker said defendant Lyudmila Grushko bribed her to increase the number of kids at her Sesame Street LMN Day Care in Brooklyn, and thus "Operation Pay Care" (seriously) was launched. DOT Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said, "These defendants chose payoffs and profit over their promise to serve the best interests of children, according to the complaint. Public funds were stolen to line the defendants' pockets and integrity was thrown out the window."

Six of the 38 day care centers have now been shut down for violations, including having open containers of alcohol sitting in the fridge next to the kids' lunches. Defendant Liudmila Umarov was also investigated back in 2003 when a child died at one of her centers. The defendants, who are mostly Russian, were required to surrender their passports.