The Minnesota parents whose daughter spurred Hannah’s Law are accused of fraudulently applying for and collecting welfare by failing to disclose a number of assets. Among the money hidden by the couple was a settlement of almost $1 million they received in a lawsuit filed after their daughter died in daycare in June 2010 – a death which resulted in the passing of Hannah’s Law.
Justin and Jennifer Kozitza’s daughter was just 4-years-old when a grape became lodged in her throat, causing her to choke to death. Officials charged with investigating the case determined that Minnesota law lacked sufficient requirements for safety training for day care employees. Their daughter’s death resulted in a push for legislation to require day care instructors and their assistants to know how to perform CPR.
Hannah was dropped off at Golden Heart Daycare on a June morning that seemed much like any other morning for the Kotitzas. Their daughter had attended the daycare for a long while and had earned the trust of the couple. When Hannah choked on a grape, staff at the daycare phoned her parents before they notified 911. By the time first responders arrived, Hannah had already died. At the time of her death, legislation in Minnesota required only one daycare employee to have CPR certification.
Hannah’s Law sought to require all daycare personnel to have CPR certification, which cost approximately $60 per person at that time. The Kozitzas stood by the governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, when he signed Hannah’s Law into legislation in 2011. Golden Heart Daycare was fined $1000 by the Department of Human Services for the delay in phoning 911. In addition, the daycare’s license was placed on a one-year conditional status.
The couple received $2,332 from November of 2013 to February of 2014 based on a false application for cash, food and assistance with health care for which they were not eligible. Among the assets hidden by the Kozitzas on the application to Nicollet County Social Services was the settlement of almost $1 million they received from the death of their daughter. The only assets the couple claimed in their petition for benefits were two vehicles, their North Mankato home and a checking account balance of $553.00.
Both Justin and Jennifer Kozitza signed the application for public assistance. In addition, they submitted an application for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The SNAP limits income to $2625 and has no limits on assets.
When interviewed in February by a county fraud investigator, Jennifer Kozitza, 31, admitted to other assets held by her and her 38-year-old husband, including several other vehicles, two snowmobiles, a trailer, a cabin and other sources of income, consisting of child care benefits from Nicollet County in Minnesota of $2173.00 and $200 in rent each month from a friend who lived with them. Their vehicles were valued at $54,759, but the limit on assets for Diversionary Work Program grants is $2000. Her assets exceeded the limit for medical assistance by $20,000. She claimed that the settlement money had all been spent and that she was unaware that the unlisted assets had to be disclosed on the application.
Both Justin and Jennifer Kozitza have been charged with wrongfully obtaining assistance, which is a felony in Minnesota. Their next scheduled court date is Nov. 18. The couple has not yet hired an attorney.
By Jennifer Pfalz