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DEM: Be on lookout for seeds from China

State officials have issued a warning to Rhode Islanders after receiving reports from more than 100 residents of receiving unsolicited packets of seeds mailed from China.

“USDA is aware that people across the country have received suspicious, unsolicited packages of seed that appear to be coming from China,” a statement from the Department of Environmental Management reads. “According to USDA, currently there is no evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales.”

Still, officials say, the seeds could prove problematic from an environmental standpoint.

“When unlabeled seeds enter the country without evidence of being inspected and certified, there is an increased risk that they may produce invasive or noxious weeds or harbor plant pests that could threaten agriculture or the natural environment,” said Matt Green, an environmental scientist in the DEM’s Division of Agriculture,” said in a statement last week. “DEM and USDA are working closely to safeguard agriculture and protect the environment and consumers while facilitating trade and movement of agricultural products.”

Anyone who receives a packet of seeds in the mail is advised not to plant the seeds and not to throw them away; to keep the original packaging, labels and materials; not to open the package; and to wash their hands after handling the package if it is open.

DEM advises that the seeds and related materials should be placed in a Ziploc bag and mailed in a “suitably sized envelope” to the USDA Plant Protection and Quarantine Office. The full address is: USDA APHIS PPQ 97 Barnes Road, Unit 200 Wallingford, CT 06492.

Reports of receiving the seeds can be made to DEM’s Division of Agriculture by calling 222-2781, ext. 4516, or emailing dem.spro@dem.ri.gov. It is asked that the report include a person’s name, address, email and phone number.

Additional information is available at dem.ri.gov/agriculture.

Child care center owner charged with fraud

A Cranston woman has been charged with fraudulently collecting more than $209,000 in benefits for her child care center through the state’s Department of Human Services over a three-year period, according to Rhode Island State Police.

Vanessa Parente, 30, a resident of Carpathia Road, was arrested July 29 and charged with obtaining money under false pretenses, fraudulently obtaining assistance and giving a false document to a public official.

She was arraigned at State Police headquarters and released on $2,500 personal recognizance. She is scheduled to appear in Superior Court on Nov. 2.

According to police, the alleged fraud involves Bambini Academy on Atwood Avenue, which is owned by Parente. Authorities say the alleged crimes first came to the attention of the Rhode Island Office of Internal Audit’s Fraud Detection and Prevention Unit in October 2019.

“Investigators conducted an extensive audit of the daycare facility and learned that the owner, Vanessa Parente, had fraudulently collected Child Care Assistance Payments (CCAP) administered by the Department of Human Services (DHS),” a statement from police reads. “The audit revealed that between 2016 and 2019 Ms. Parente had fraudulently collected $209,545.88 in CCAP benefits for children that did not attend the daycare facility or were chronically absent.”

“This investigation exemplifies what our team does every day to root out fraud on behalf of all Rhode Islanders,” Dorothy Pascale, the chief of the Office of Internal Audit, said in the statement. “The combination of our dedicated, hard-working staff and the analytical tools at our fingertips positions us well to identify fraudulent activities. Addressing fraud is also made possible because of our strong relationships and coordination with partner agencies. This case should serve as a warning that if you are benefiting from public funds under false pretenses, we will find you and hold you to account.”

Park View Veterans Day 5K canceled

An annual Veterans Day tradition in Cranston will not be held this year, school officials announced this week.

The Park View Middle School Veterans Day 5K is typically held in November, starting and ending at the Roger Williams Park entrance across from the school on Park Avenue. Proceeds from the event support the Johnston-based veterans organization Operation Stand Down RI.

“As with virtually every aspect of life, this year is something that we have never experienced or could have possibly imagined,” Principal Cheryl Anderson and race director John Macera wrote in a letter to the community. “Never have we had to put our lives on hold this long and try to plan for the future with so much uncertainty. Due to the financial commitments which are invested in staging this event, we are forced to make this announcement at this time.”

The letter continues: “Out of an abundance of safety for all, the postponement for this year’s race will only strengthen our resolve and give us the opportunity to recalculate to make the 2021 Park View 5K even better. We wish you safety and good health in the coming year.”

Missing Johnston boy found

A 16-year-old boy who was reported missing from the Hopkins Avenue area in Johnston earlier this week has been found and is safe, Johnston Police announced Monday.

“We appreciate the public’s assistance with this matter,” a Facebook post from the department reads. 

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