Tuesday, August 14, 2018
News Roundup

Amid CareerSource controversy, allegations of a love affair, big raises and family favoritism at the top

The anonymous letter described a possible love affair at the top of the local jobs center.

President and CEO Edward Peachey was in a romantic relationship with top administrator Haley Loeun, it said.

It described how Loeun was seen at a conference coming out of Peachey’s hotel room at 2:30 a.m, and how they often acted like a couple inside the office — drinking out of the same soda cans and "touching ... in front of staff."

The three-page letter also outlined issues with other staffers and the condition of the building.

"We are just asking for HELP!!!" stated the letter, which arrived at a county commissioner’s office earlier this month. "There needs to be more oversight."

Peachey would not talk about the relationship. Loeun, the business services director, denied to the Tampa Bay Times that they were romantically involved.

"I have a professional relationship with him and consider him a close friend; he is respected by me and numerous other employees," she wrote in an email.

What’s not in question is that Peachey has signed off on four substantial raises for Loeun in four years, as she rose to the highest levels of CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, payroll records show. Her salary ballooned from $47,554 in 2013 to $130,000 last year, making her the agencies’ second highest paid administrator, behind only Peachey.

Also not in dispute: Peachey approved the hiring of three of Loeun’s relatives since 2014. Loeun even gave one of them a performance evaluation.

Peachey told the Times that all hires go "through the same process."

"I approved the hiring of everyone," he said. "But I do not conduct the interviews, and I do not make the decisions."

The two job centers already face local, state and federal investigations into whether they exaggerated reports of how many people they helped find jobs. Now, Peachey and Loeun’s close ties, and the hiring of her relatives, have agency board members questioning whether the two leaders have unfairly rewarded people based on personal connections.

TIMES INVESTIGATION: CareerSource centers took credit for thousands of hires they had nothing to do with

Sandy Murman, the Hillsborough County commissioner and agency board member who received the letter, said that kind of behavior would be "totally improper in the workplace." Murman found the letter to be credible, even though it was anonymous.

"For me a huge issue is that if other employees are watching this going on, what are they thinking?" she said.

• • •

Peachey, 54, has led the Pinellas County jobs center since 2003 and took over the Hillsborough County agency in 2010, tasked with cleaning it up after a spending scandal. The agencies are two of the state’s 24 CareerSource programs, which receive millions in tax dollars each year to help train and place people in jobs.

Loeun, 41, joined the Pinellas career center in 2004, according to her personnel file. The year before she had graduated from Troy State University with a degree in business administration. Loeun was a recruiter for several years, connecting job seekers to employers, and later became a program coordinator.

In 2013, Peachey approved her promotion to director of economic services and increased her pay from $47,554 to $80,000.

The next year, he signed off on another raise from $80,000 to $95,000, the personnel file shows.

In June 2016, he bumped her salary to $110,000.

Last year, HR director Alice Cobb recommended in a letter to Peachey that Loeun’s base pay be bumped to $130,000, saying Loeun had consolidated the business services staff at the agencies in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, increasing her job responsibilities.

After bonuses and cashing in paid time off, Loeun grossed $179,822 in 2017, according to the payroll records.

In recent years, Peachey has repeatedly given her positive performance reviews.

In a letter offering her a raise, he wrote that she had "consistently exceeded expectations" and praised her for "diligence and dedication."

Loeun "has a knack for making good business decisions," according to a review signed by Peachey in December 2016, and "is a great team builder."

• • •

In her time at the center, Loeun said, she and Peachey have become close but not romantic.

More than a dozen staffers said Peachey and Loeun are always together and are often seen coming and going from the office.

Geoff Newton, a recruiter who left the agency in 2017, said Loeun and Peachey’s romantic relationship "was no secret."

"We were all aware of it," he said.

Three of Peachey’s St. Petersburg neighbors told the Times that Loeun was frequently at Peachey’s home. They said they often see Peachey and Loeun in the yard with a dog and two children. Loeun is a mother of two from a previous marriage, according to court records. One neighbor identified her by name.

In 2015, Loeun went through a divorce. Her ex-husband told the Times he has long suspected she left him for Peachey.

"What more can I say?" said David Loeun. "They’re still together."

• • •

As Loeun rose to the top, three of her relatives got jobs at CareerSource.

Voter records and the CareerSource payroll connect Loeun and her three relatives -- Earl Alcover, Huey Nguyen, and Howard Nguyen -- to the same address on Merrimoor Boulevard in Seminole. It’s also the same address Loeun listed in her 2015 divorce case.

The anonymous letter sent to Murman described Alcover as Loeun’s brother-in-law. Current and former CareerSource employees described Huey Nguyen as Loeun’s sister and Howard Nguyen as her brother. Loeun, however, would not confirm exactly how she is related to them.

Alcover was hired in 2014 as a resource specialist. Peachey wrote him an offer letter dated the same day as his application. Loeun later promoted him to business services recruiter, according to an email in his personnel file.

Alcover’s wife is Hieu Nguyen, according to his job application. She lists her address in voter records as the same Merrimoor Boulevard home in Seminole that Loeun lists as her address in CareerSource payroll records.

Alcover, 30, earned $56,250 last year, the payroll records show. He previously worked as an assembler at a medical technology company in Largo until 2013, according to the application. Before working at CareerSource, he was a busser and server assistant at Olive Garden. The resume included with his application listed an associate of arts degree from St. Petersburg College, but a spokeswoman for the school says he never graduated.

In 2015, Huey Nguyen, 45, joined the agency. She is now the coordinator of YouthBuild, a CareerSource program to help at-risk teens learn the construction trade. She earned $69,300 last year, records show. She declined to comment when reached at her office.

Nguyen did not fill out a line in her job application about whether she had relatives at CareerSource.

Last May, Howard Nguyen, 28, started working at CareerSource as an intern. He was later hired as an IT specialist and earned $20,195 working part of the year, records show.

In a brief phone call with a Times reporter, Howard Nguyen confirmed that Loeun, Huey Nguyen and Alcover were his relatives. He then hung up, saying he could not talk to a reporter. On his application, he checked "no" for the question about whether he had relatives who worked for CareerSource.

More than a dozen current and former employees have called or emailed the Times complaining about how the agency hired Loeun’s relatives.

The anonymous letter sent to the Hillsborough commissioner stated that Loeun’s relatives had "almost taken over" CareerSource.

• • •

Loeun isn’t the only one with relatives in the CareerSource offices.

Lindsey Cobb, 35, the daughter of human resource director Alice Cobb, joined the agency in 2015. She is now a placement specialist, earning $49,681 in 2017, up $10,000 from the year before, according to CareerSource records. She previously worked as an administrative assistant at the Florida Reptile Room, according to her job application.

The women list adjacent Plant City address on payroll records. Lindsey Cobb described Alice Cobb as her mother in her application and listed her as an emergency contact. Neither responded to requests for comment.

The elder Cobb joined the local CareerSource offices after she was ousted as the chief operating officer at the job placements center in Orlando amid a spending scandal.

The CareerSource employee manual is open-ended about family ties in the office.

"Relatives of employees and non-related members of the same household will be considered for employment on an equal basis with other applicants for those positions where neither relative would be directly or indirectly supervising or checking the work of the other," the policy states.

Ultimately, according to the manual,the president and CEO should review any promotions, transfers and hiring offers to people with relatives in the office or who live with someone from the agency.

Board members who oversee the two local CareerSource agencies said they were concerned about the family ties.

Several told the Times they did not know about Peachey and Loeun’s close relationship, or that CareerSource had hired three of Loeun’s relatives.

"It is under investigation," CareerSource Pinellas chairman Jack Geller said about the family ties. "The appropriate action will be taken when it’s decided."

Pinellas County Commissioner and former CareerSource board member Ken Welch said the relationship "fits into a pattern of unacceptable behavior."

"Whether they have a written policy or not, it brings up obvious questions of conflict of interest, and to me it merits further investigation," he said.

Murman, the Hillsborough commissioner, said CareerSource should have strict anti-nepotism policies and was especially bothered by the family connections.

"That’s just not appropriate," she said. "That could lead to all kinds of issues of credibility and fraud -- who knows?"

Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804. Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996.


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