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Agency pick makes quick exit

TALLAHASSEE — The day before a state Senate panel was going to question him about sexual abuse allegations at a Hillsborough County group home he oversaw, Carl Littlefield resigned as the governor's choice to run the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

Gov. Rick Scott also assigned the chief inspector general to lead a task force to investigate huge deficits that the agency has been running for years.

It was a day of disarray for the agency, which serves more than 35,000 disabled people, most of whom receive Medicaid. Littlefield's withdrawal Monday night came just 17 days after Scott fired Jim DeBeaugrine, the state agency's director of 2 1/2 years.

Littlefield, who was promoted from Tampa Bay area regional director to Scott's top nominee, offered no explanation for stepping down.

As Tampa Bay area administrator of state developmental disabilities services for nearly a decade, Littlefield was in charge of a region that included a controversial Seffner group home that housed men with severe behavior problems, including sex offenders, and permitted sex between the residents.

In at least one instance, staffers viewed sex between peers as part of a therapeutic program, according to a December St. Petersburg Times investigation. Though the center categorized one encounter in 2005 as rape, administrators did not change a sexual policy that national experts questioned.

The governor did not say why Littlefield resigned, but senators preparing to grill him Tuesday said it was obvious.

"It had everything to do with what happened," Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said.

"Do I think it's the right decision?" asked Sen. Ronda Storms, who heads an investigation into the home as chairwoman of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. "Yes."

The governor didn't answer whether he knew of the allegations before he picked Littlefield.

"When I asked Secretary Littlefield to take the position, I felt comfortable he would do a good job," Scott said.

Littlefield did not return a home phone message.

Besides leadership vacancies, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities is struggling with deficits. Former director DeBeaugrine said the agency had a $100 million deficit in 2007-2008 when he arrived as a deputy director. Over the last three years, he said, the agency cut deficits to less than $50 million.

The problems have to do with how the disabled get services, he said. Currently, the state must fund any reasonable services a developmentally disabled client needs to keep up with Medicaid requirements. But starting next year, the agency will assign capped amounts to each client, requiring them to determine how to spend it.

"You get a budget and then it's the consumers' job working with a support coordinator to set up a budget and manage your needs," DeBeaugrine said.

He welcomed the governor's audit but declined to comment on Littlefield's resignation.

Littlefield, 62, represented east Pasco in the Florida House from 1992 to 1999, when then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him statewide director of developmental disabilities.

In 2002, the Pasco County property appraiser ruled that he violated state homestead tax exemption rules and owed about $7,600 in back taxes and penalties when he had improperly claimed an exemption on a Dade City house. His brother lived in the house, while Littlefield maintained a rented home in Tallahassee.

That month, Littlefield resigned to take a lesser position with a nearly $25,000-a-year pay cut as regional director for developmental services for DeSoto, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. State officials said he moved to be closer to a sick relative.

He held the Tampa Bay regional position in July 2008, when Rose Rouse, mother of a developmentally disabled man, said she wrote Littlefield that the staff at the Seffner group home was urging her to let her son have sex with other men there.

Her son had been accused of molesting children but was incompetent to face criminal charges so a judge ordered him to a Human Development Center group home. The Hillsborough nonprofit group home provider had a reputation for housing men accused of sex crimes. Rouse wanted Littlefield to move her son elsewhere.

When she said she didn't receive a response, she e-mailed Littlefield in August 2008. Days later, her son was found receiving oral sex from another man in a bathroom. Rouse took her concerns to Storms, who called for an investigation that stopped a practice the men called "quiet time," which some men used to engage in sex.

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities told Storms that sexual activity in group homes would be addressed with a policy or new standards and said it would try to move Kevin out of the Human Development Center.

The December Times story pointed out that, after two years, no new policies had been adopted and Kevin remained at the group home. It also reported that Littlefield's office had fired a medical case manager who had raised concerns about "quiet time." The Florida Commission on Human Relations later ruled that person a whistle blower.

The Times story prompted Storms to use her Senate panel to pressure the state agency. At a Feb. 8 hearing, Littlefield's predecessor answered questions while he skipped the meeting. Senators thought they had another chance at Littlefield until they learned minutes before Tuesday's hearing that the governor had accepted his resignation.

While the Agency for Persons with Disabilities has repeatedly told the Times that it never knew about "quiet time" until 2008 and that it had no evidence that the group home promoted sex, Storms said she has seen evidence over the last month that told her otherwise.

Times/Herald staff writers Steve Bousquet, Michael C. Bender and Marc Caputo contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

More coverage

Previous coverage of the sexual abuse allegations at the Seffner group home is at links.tampabay.com.

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Agency pick makes quick exit 02/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 11:09pm]

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