Under Florida law, her plea makes her ineligible to work in child care. She cant own or operate a daycare center. But in 2009 she registered to do business as Busy BEE Services and became a state-approved tutoring vendor.
Last year, her business collected more than $95,000 tutoring students in Orange County schools.
Neither Axson, 42, nor a company representative could be reached for comment, despite repeated phone calls and emails.
Axsons case isnt an isolated example, The Times found. The newspaper used corporate records to identify more than 1,100 officers and directors of the 456 tutoring companies approved in Florida last school year. Comparing that list with records of criminal convictions and arrests uncovered at least 36 companies headed by people with criminal records. In 24 cases, they pleaded guilty or no contest to charges ranging from misdemeanor domestic battery and public lewdness to grand theft and rape. In the others, charges were downgraded or dropped after the defendants made deals with prosecutors.
State laws meant to protect children would bar many of these people from working in a day care business. But those laws dont apply to government-funded tutoring companies, whose officers and directors are not screened.
Ernest R. Joe Jr. was in prison for raping a woman at gunpoint in front of her kids when he became a director of Kids World Enrichment Center Inc.
That didnt stop regulators from approving the company as a tutoring vendor in 2009.
Founded by Joes mother, Carolynne Mather, in Lakeland, the company earned more than $119,000 in the past two years tutoring children in Hillsborough and Polk counties.
In January, Mather told The Times she included Joe, now 42, in corporate paperwork because she listed family members as directors of her company. She stressed that Joe, released from prison last year and now a registered sex offender, was not involved with her business. The company still is tutoring in Florida schools. Joe remained a director until June.
Dawud Brown, 34, pleaded guilty in 2008 to two counts of felony check fraud but skipped out on his probation. He was listed as a fugitive when he became a director of Aspire Innovative Learning, Inc., a Clearwater nonprofit that earned more than $33,000 last year from Pinellas County schools. Brown couldnt be reached for comment. Calls to his companys phone number during a two-week period were met with a busy signal. A company representative didnt respond to emails.
This year, Browns company is tutoring again. He still is a wanted man.
Education officials across the state said these cases alarmed them.
The vetting process is not as good as it should be. We need to tighten it up, said T. Willard Fair, former chairman of the state Board of Education and an outspoken advocate for subsidized tutoring. There can be no acceptable rationale for not doing it. We cannot give the impression that anything goes in this process.
After companies win state approval as tutoring contractors, theres little to stop them from ripping off school districts.
In 2009, Erika Robinsons nonprofit was making about $1 million a year tutoring at a handful of Miami-Dade County schools. As head of the business, Robinson paid herself more than $186,000 a year, district investigators later would find.