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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Feds clear workforce agency in petition flap



The U.S. Department of Labor has closed an investigation into how a members federally-fund youth group for WorkNet Pinellas collected petitions for County Commission candidate Beverley Billiris to qualify for this year’s election.

A report says U.S. attorneys decided not to prosecute "due to insufficient evidence of criminal activity being
found" regarding federal election laws, because none of the 20 petitions were used and they had no effect on Billiris making the ballot. A spokesman, Michael Wald, noted another factor Friday: the activity was halted.

The report also said there’s no evidence WorkNet, a non-profit workforce agency, misspent money from the federal stimulus on the Youth Build program for the petition gathering.

The petition activity amounted to less than $100 of expenses. In March, WorkNet Pinellas program director Robyn Poppick was fired days after the Times disclosed the petition effort, because she didn’t get approval from WorkNet officials, who called the activity unethical and possibly illegal. The federal report did note that a voicemail from a labor officials suggesting approval of "whatever exercise Poppick had requested approval for."

The Labor Department will continue to monitor WorkNet Pinellas spending on Youth Build, Wald said.

Poppick, who provided the report, said it clears her of any wrongdoing in an email.

Billiris faces County Commissioner Susan Latvala and wine and spirits broker Carl Folkman in the Aug. 24 Republican primary. The winner faces Democrat Bob Hackworth in the Nov. 2 election.

The dispute began after the youths ran in to Latvala family members at a polling place.

David DeCamp, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Thursday, September 16, 2010 3:41pm]


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