Federal agents and Memphis police fanned out across the city today in a massive raid targeting more than half a dozen businesses; from day care centers and restaurants to a car wash. Authorities also raided a home.
FOX13's Matt Gerien broke the big story this morning and our cameras were rolling when federal agents executed sealed search warrants and seized truckloads of evidence in this widespread criminal investigation.
Tonight FOX13 has new information about what the feds and local police were searching for.
Memphis Police Detectives and U.S. Secret Service agents raided the Kare Enrichment Center in Hickory Hill just after 9 a.m. this morning. The building was already full of children.
Investigators are serving federal search warrants around Memphis and in Northern Mississippi. Kare is one of several businesses being searched by authorities. It's part of a large scale investigation and law enforcement sources say the focus is fraud.
Agents brought boxes of evidence out of the day care and loaded it into a box truck.
The children remained inside as the police worked.
Several parents like Porsha Williams came to pick their children up once they heard the police were in the building. "They really didn't say anything. They just asked me who was my kid and did I have ID and they brought him to me and had me sign some paper," said Williams.
She says she saw the investigators working and gathering documents.
Williams said she saw just boxes that said "evidence and just people standing around looking and looking through stuff."
The raids around the city were simultaneous. Federal agents were inside the Kare Enrichment Center on Winchester.
A different team searched the third center on East Raines.
The U.S. Attorney's office says this is all part of an ongoing investigation but the search warrants are sealed which means the details aren't open to the public.
A spokesman declined to release any additional information.
Federal agents also converged on several businesses.
One man was led out the Eo'j Restaurant and Lounge on Macon Road in handcuffs and officers closed down the Save More, a convenience store on South Third Street to look for evidence. Another group went into the Augustus Learning Journey just down the road.
The U.S. Attorney's office says the MPD's Organized Crime Unit is working with the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Marshal's office along with U.S. Department of Agriculture investigators and the Tennessee Department of Human Services. These agencies look into financial crime and misuse of federal assistance.
Sources say much of the probe involves the alleged misuse of federal dollars.
Back in Hickory Hill officers kept a close eye on staff members when a child left a backpack on a bus. A detective escorted a staff member to get it. Police had taken over the day care.
Parents picking up their children say the officers and staff members were trying to keep things routine for the kids but those parents say they want answers. They want to know exactly what police are looking for.
Spannisha Smith who was picking up her nephew says, "I don't know what's going on out here no more."
The parents weren't getting any information but law enforcement sources say this is all out fraud.
Many of these businesses receive federal or state money to pay for nutrition programs and other government assistance programs. That's the type of fraud the U.S. Department of Agriculture agents investigate.
So far we don't have any details on charges.
It could be months before we learn of indictments in this case.
Police and prosecutors are still trying to build this case.
Statement of the U.S. Attorney's Office concerning federal search warrants:
Earlier today, federal search warrants were executed upon a number of establishments in Shelby County and North Mississippi. These warrants were filed under seal and are part of an ongoing investigation. Therefore, we have no further comment on this matter at this time.
Law enforcement agencies involved in the execution of these search warrants include the Memphis Police Department Organized Crime Unit, the United States Secret Service, the United States Marshals Service, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Tennessee Department of Human Services.
Current list of day cares and businesses raided by local and federal agents:
Chism Car Wash-1614 E. Shelby
Kare Enrichment Center-3750 Ridgeway
Kare Enrichment Center-1852 Winchester
Kare Enrichment Center-1731 E Raines
Chism Family Learning Center-361 W Holmes
Chism Child Care-3673 South Third
Chism Child Care-4840 South Third
Save More-4082 South Third
Augustus Learning Journey-4858 Millbranch Rd.
Loving Arms Daycare-1671 Euclid
FOX13's Les Smith and Matt Gerien contributed to this story