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I-Team: Boston Daycare Workers Cheated Out Of Retirement Savings

By Lauren Leamanczyk, WBZ-TV
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WBZ-TV's Lauren Leamanczyk Lauren Leamanczyk
Lauren Leamanczyk is an I-Team Correspondent for WBZ-TV News and is...
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BOSTON (CBS) – When a Boston daycare and pre-school shut down, its workers tried to access their retirement savings. Some found big discrepancies between what they put in and what was actually deposited.

Maribel Pena keeps impeccable records. She has every pay stub and every statement from her 403B – a retirement account that’s similar to a 401K.

She worked at S.M.I.L.E. Pre-school in Roxbury for 20 years. She loved her job. Maribel was never highly paid but she made sure to save some for retirement. $23.08 was taken out of each bi-weekly paycheck.

But starting in 2008, her statements from Prudential show none of that money was invested in her 403b.

“I have to raise 2 daughters by myself, have 2 or 3 jobs,” Maribel said. “Where did they put my money? I know they took it from my paycheck. Where is my money?”

She alerted her co-worker Martha Burke another longtime S.M.I.L.E. employee to the problem with their accounts.

“I’m wondering how come they did that to me. There’s a lot of questions in my mind,” Burke said. She also said she hadn’t gotten any answers to those questions.

Getting those answers became more difficult when S.M.I.L.E. shut down in late July. They said financial problems were to blame.

So the I-Team tried to find out what happened to Maribel and Martha’s money.

We went to the daycare and to the owner’s home. Finally, WBZ got a hold of owner Mariam Mahmoud on her cell phone. She said she’d meet us at S.M.I.L.E. for an interview.

When a reporter and photographer arrived, they found the doors were padlocked and no one answered.

The leadership of S.M.I.L.E. dodged WBZ’s interview requests for a week. Finally the I-Team tracked down Mahmoud.

“Where did that money go all these years?” WBZ asked. “Where did that money go? It stayed in the account. It stayed in S.M.I.L.E. Preschool’s account. The same account we use for everything,” Mahmoud said.

S.M.I.L.E. took in about $1.6 million per year. Mahmoud says she didn’t handle payroll or finances. She blames an outside company for the mistake.

“I overlooked it as the director. I should have followed through but I was in the same boat. I just overlooked it.”

Shortly after the I-Team started making calls, both women received checks for just over $2500. Neither is satisfied.

“They owe me more money,” said Maribel.

The $2500 check covers only the missing money back to 2010. Mirabel can prove her money stopped being deposited in 2008. Not to mention, now they’ll have to pay taxes on it.

‘I trusted them over the years and I just can’t believe that they didn’t give that trust back until one of their employees discovered it,” said Martha.

Send tips for the I-Team to iteam@cbsboston.com

MORE LOCAL NEWS FROM CBS BOSTON

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