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Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services could lose job placement contract

CLEARWATER — The president of Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, a nonprofit social welfare agency, is on paid leave following troubling findings about the organization's performance of a state contract.

Gulf Coast has roughly 800 employees working in 32 counties across Florida, including the bay area. It reported revenue of nearly $33 million in 2007, the last year for which federal records are available.

At issue is a contract the nonprofit has with the state to place mentally and physically disabled people in jobs. It's a contract Gulf Coast may lose.

"We are making a decision now whether to continue working with them," said Gordon Lightfoot, contracts administrator of the Department of Education program. "That has yet to be resolved."

In late March or early April, Lightfoot said, Gulf Coast president Michael Bernstein visited his office.

Lightfoot said Bernstein told the state an internal review had found irregularities in Gulf Coast's handling of the contract, and that a few of the nonprofit's employees had been fired.

The state then launched a review of Gulf Coast's performance of the contract from January 2008 through early June.

The state looked at Gulf Coast's operations in three geographic regions. One includes Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee and Sarasota counties; the two others are in South Florida.

The state found that Gulf Coast had invoiced the state for having gotten jobs for clients, but produced inadequate evidence that the placements had actually occurred.

Also, it was found that Gulf Coast placed some clients in jobs that the state had determined would not be appropriate for them.

Gulf Coast was ordered to repay $132,000 to the state, which it did in mid September.

Lightfoot said most of the problems had occurred in South Florida and that Gulf Coast wants to end its contract with the state there while continuing to provide the placement service in the bay area.

Gulf Coast, which has its main office on Icot Boulevard, referred questions to Lisa Brock, who has a public relations firm in Tampa.

Brock said that the nonprofit's board of directors had placed Bernstein on paid leave pending a thorough internal review. According to available records, Bernstein was given salary and benefits of nearly $267,000 in 2007.

Also, she said, the organization's chief financial officer, Diana Robertson, has resigned.

Brock said the $132,000 that Gulf Coast paid to the state was a modest portion of a contract that had been worth $1.2 million to the nonprofit.

In the 31 years that Gulf Coast has provided services to some of the state's neediest populations, Brock said, there has never been any indication of wrongdoing, nor would the organization's leaders tolerate scandal.

"Trust me," Brock said, "if there is any impropriety going on the board wants to know about it and they will take care of it."

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4166.

Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services could lose job placement contract 10/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 8, 2009 1:05pm]
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