TAMPA –– Edward Peachey had remained mostly silent for the past 10 days as his once heralded tenure as Tampa Bay’s jobs chief came under steadily intensifying scrutiny.
For the first time Friday, he offered a detailed defense that neither he nor his staff has inflated the number of people they helped find work. He blamed news media for raising questions that have caused politicians to launch a series of investigations.
"This has really snowballed," he said.
His comments came after the CareerSource Tampa Bay executive committee voted unanimously to suspend him as its president and CEO in Hillsborough County. The day before, the CareerSource Pinellas chair removed Peachey from the same role there.
Earlier Friday, U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced he has launched a federal investigation into both agencies, saying he is prepared to make a referral to law enforcement if necessary.
Peachey told reporters that he does not believe he or his employees have done anything improper.
"There’s no criminal acts going on here," he said.
For much of the past week, some board members for both agencies have voiced support for Peachey as elected officials called for his removal.
TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: CAREERSOURCE
But at Friday’s meeting, CareerSource Tampa Bay chair Richard Peck said it was time to suspend the CEO as the various investigations move forward.
"We need Mr. Peachey to step aside because there’s too many rumors going around, too many stories going around," Peck said.
Even as he voted to do so, Peck expressed skepticism that anything is amiss. He told other board members he had personally looked into the matter and found nothing wrong.
"If Mr. Peachey is found guilty, I’ll be the first one to escort him out of the building," he said.
A day earlier, Hillsborough County commissioners expressed their growing impatience with the barrage of troubling headlines spilling forth from the jobs center. On Friday, Commissioner Sandy Murman, who sits on the executive committee, brought that message forward, urging fellow board members not to "trivialize or minimize these allegations."
The committee ultimately voted to suspend Peachey without pay. That contrasted with CareerSource Pinellas, where he was suspended with pay.
The Hillsborough vote means Peachey will receive half his total compensation, according to CareerSource attorney Charles Harris. Payroll records show he made $291,000 in 2016.
Hillsborough’s board members also joined their counterparts in Pinellas in saying they will help an ad-hoc committee conduct its own investigation into the job placements.
Peachey said regular state monitoring should have caught any discrepancies in job-placement reporting.
"We’re not hiding anything, we don’t have a separate system over here where we put numbers in, decide what we’re going to report to the state," Peachey said. "If they had said, we don’t like the way you’re entering your data, you need to do it this way, we would have gladly changed the way we were entering the data."
The two Tampa Bay jobs centers received $32 million in federal money in 2016 to help train and place people into jobs.
On Jan.19, the Department of Economic Opportunity announced it was launching an investigation into the two agencies after the Times Bay Times raised questions about their job-placement figures.
Several people who the agencies reported they placed in jobs have told the Times they never got assistance from CareerSource. And employers who accept referrals from both offices say they were asked to submit names and personal information about all the people they hire, even if CareerSource played no role.
For years, Peachey has boasted about his track record of helping people find work. Both agencies have regularly placed tops among the 24 regional CareerSource centers in Florida in job placements, based on numbers they report to the state.
Peachey has led CareerSource Pinellas since 2002 and was tapped to take over CareerSource Tampa Bay in 2010 after a spending scandal there forced out the prior leadership.
Since the DEO announced its investigation, state and federal lawmakers have called for their own inquiries, including Florida’s two U.S. senators on Thursday, who asked the Labor Department to get involved.
"We are committed to conducting a thorough and exhaustive review of this issue and will take all appropriate actions in coordination with the State DEO," the labor secretary wrote to Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, "as well as provide information we receive to the Inspector General should any evidence of fraud or abuse of federal resources be discovered, so that a criminal referral can be made, if appropriate."
Peachey said after Friday’s vote that he understood the committee members’ position, saying "the boards have taken the appropriate action."
He also said the last couple of weeks have taken a toll.
"I don’t sleep," he said. "I don’t eat."
When Peachey was asked if CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay’s job placement reporting was correct, his personal lawyer, Marion Hale, stepped in and said: "Of course they’re correct. They’re absolutely correct. There’s no doubt about it they’re correct."
Peachey said he would not step down and asked that he be "afforded some due process."
"You have to put yourself in my shoes and that is, two months ago everything was excellent and going really well," Peachey said. "And now within three or four weeks, I’m going on leave without pay.
"If it was that bad to where I should have to resign, that I should lose my job, then I’ll do that."