TAMPA — Living conditions in Daphne Jones' boarding home in West Tampa weren't just disturbing, police say. They were criminal.
After finding elderly and disabled people crammed into windowless bedrooms without air conditioning or enough drinking water in August 2007, authorities arrested Jones on 18 felony counts of adult abuse.
But Thursday, Jones, 37, pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor count, for which she will serve six months of probation and 25 hours of community service. Her attorney said the whole ordeal had been overblown.
Prosecutors offered little explanation.
"The case law requires a much higher standard to establish a felony charge," Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said.
Early on, it looked like Jones, the ex-wife of former major league baseball player and Hillsborough High standout Keith "KiKi" Jones, had pulled a bait-and-switch scheme. Some residents' family members said they thought their loved ones were living in Jones' 6,000-square-foot gated mansion in Temple Terrace. The property was licensed by the state as an adult family care home.
The families were upset to learn their loved ones had been moved to the boarding house, sharing one bathroom and sleeping on bunk beds.
Defense attorney Lyann Goudie said some residents had been moved after construction began on Jones' mansion to make it more suitable for assisted living facility residents. The family members who were actively involved with their loved ones knew that, Goudie said.
The attorney said her client took in the people no one else would. Some paid for their stay with government benefits. Some didn't pay at all. The Department of Children and Families and other organizations referred homeless people there.
Tampa police officers arrived on Aug. 9, 2007, after receiving a tip about neglect. The man who made the complaint had an ax to grind with Jones, Goudie said.
The air conditioning had broken the day before. Goudie said further investigation after Jones' arrest revealed that two repair men had been to the boarding house before police came.
Goudie said she took the deposition of one former resident who had bad things to say about the boarding house. The woman substantiated the information about the air conditioning, plus admitted that she suffered from hallucinations and sometimes saw things that were not there.
"They just got caught up in the hype," Goudie said of police. "All this business that (Jones) had people sweltering in a sweat box was not true."
The Tampa Police Department would not comment Thursday.
Elrod Curry, 64, of Plant City, said his family had suspected that "something strange" was going on at the boarding house where his sister, Rosa Wilson, lived, but she couldn't tell them much because her mind came and went. He said Thursday that Jones' sentence seemed too light.
In 2003, a federal judge sentenced Jones to 24 months of probation and ordered her to pay $41,000 in restitution to the Social Security Administration after she misrepresented her financial situation when applying for benefits for her son, who has cerebral palsy.
After her most recent arrest, the state Agency for Health Care Administration fined Jones $20,000 and revoked her license for not cooperating with the agency.
On Thursday, she pleaded guilty to culpable negligence. That charge resulted from one elderly female resident who had to be hospitalized for severe dehydration after police arrived. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta withheld adjudication.
Jones does not think she did anything wrong but said she wanted to move on. After her arrest, people looked at her differently and treated her with disdain, she said.
"It affected every part of my life," she said outside the courthouse. "Thank God it's over."
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3337.