Crime & Public Safety

Parents lost $50K at Hilton Head preschool. The previous owner won’t be charged

On Monday, Jordan Ockovcin and Debora Bernal opened the doors of their new preschool on the south end of Hilton Head Island.

It was a new beginning.

They saw familiar faces — children they’d started the summer educating whom they hadn’t seen in more than a month.

The Little Island Preschool has been closed since early July after the previous owner took around $50,000 in advance payments for childcare and then left the business.

In February, police reports say Shay Jordan texted parents at the school to ask them to pre-pay for childcare for several months. She said the air conditioning was broken at the school and she needed an advance to fix it. But when Bernal purchased the daycare in July, the prepaid funds were gone.

Jordan said the confusion came from a misunderstanding during the takeover of ownership, and that she was planning to pay everyone back.

Jordan, who was investigated by the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, won’t be facing criminal charges.

Magistrate Judge Douglas Novak found no probable cause to pursue fraud charges, according to a report from the Sheriff’s Office. A civil case filed by one of Jordan’s former employees against Jordan for missed pay is pending, according to court documents.

That means none of the parents is likely to get their money back, and Ockovcin said she can’t honor the advance payments parents made for future months of childcare.

“We were unable to honor the pre-payments that people made with the previous owner. We’re a new business with a new tax ID,” she said. “We never received any of the money that was collected.”

Reached Wednesday, Jordan said she had cooperated fully with the Sheriff’s Office in the investigation and never left the country as some parents said when the school first closed. Jordan said she “was never hiding any money and (I) still am not.”

In a July 13 statement, Jordan said the center lost 20 students in May, leaving a $48,000 hole in her budget. She acknowledged she was behind on paying staff, but she planned to refund the parents’ money.

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Little Island Preschool on Arrow Road on Hilton Head Island. Two police reports of alleged fraud connected to the executive director are under investigation by the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office. Google Maps

“Not being able to pay employees and friends who have worked with you for years is the worst feeling in the world,” Jordan wrote. “Any people that need a cash refund have been contacted with the amount they are owed and I am figuring out how to pay this.”

According to parents who have filed reports with the Sheriff’s Office, families lost between $480 and $4,950 by paying ahead for months before the daycare unexpectedly closed. Most parents paid ahead for six months.

Based on those who have filed reports, Jordan collected $49,439 for tuition that wasn’t returned when the preschool closed. But many of the parents estimate the loss was more like $105,000, according to their testimonies in police reports.

Despite that, most of the children returned to the school on Monday when Bernal and Ockovcin reopened. Three new students started at the school, and nine of the 12 original staff returned.

“They’re so glad to be back,” she said of the students. “We are really striving to make this a better daycare than it was before.”

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Dayle Thomas SmartyPants Photography
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