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Investigators Probe Health Worker Who Inspected Unlicensed SoHo Daycare

By  Danielle Tcholakian and Murray Weiss | July 16, 2015 7:37am 

 A police officer seen outside 69 Greene St., where a 3-month-old boy died at SoHo Child Care, Inc.
A police officer seen outside 69 Greene St., where a 3-month-old boy died at SoHo Child Care, Inc.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

SOHO — Investigators are looking at the actions of a Department of Health inspector who was assigned to a complaint that an unlicensed day care center was being run in a SoHo loft months before a 3-month-old boy died there, DNAinfo New York has learned.

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the city's Department of Investigation will focus on the actions of the DOH staffer tasked with responding to a November 2014 complaint about SoHo Child Care at 69 Greene St., where Maryellen Strautmanis, 53, had been running a day care center without a license since 2001, sources said.

Karl Towndrow died at the center on Monday, the first day his mother dropped him off for day care.

An investigator with the city's Department of Health — whose name has not been released — was dispatched to look into the November complaint but closed it after a single visit, saying he was "unable to corroborate the allegation of an illegal daycare," according to a DOH spokesman. 

The inspector "spoke to the businesses on the ground floor who denied seeing any activity" and watched the front door of the building for an unknown period of time, the DOH spokesman said. He also allegedly rang the apartment's buzzer, but said no one answered.

The spokesman said he did not have any information about the ongoing investigation into the inspector's actions.

Investigators plan to check what actions were taken by the DOH inspector, as well as check the inspector's phone records and speak with ground floor businesses to verify the inspector's claim that he actually carried out the inspection, sources said. 

With a prominent online presence, the knowledge of neighbors and a write-up in the New York Times, sources said, the day care made no apparent attempt to conceal its identity.

"What kind of inspection was done here, when there is a business operating for 14 years without a license?" a law enforcement source asked.

"You can likely show up in the morning and late afternoon and see parents dropping off and picking up their children."

Conducting a shoddy inspection is not a criminal offense. But sources said if investigators can find proof that the inspector falsely claimed to have completed an inspection that was not conducted, he could face criminal charges for falsifying business records.

"We prosecute city employees who say they did an inspection when they did not," a law enforcement source said, referring to recent arrests of building inspectors and transit signal maintenance workers.