Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

DJJ probe of Miami group bungled, state says

An investigation by state juvenile justice administrators into a Miami group that was paid hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to mentor girls in detention centers was sloppy, incomplete and drew conclusions without sufficient evidence, a state report says.

The Office of the Chief Inspector General, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, released a 123-page report on the Girls Advocacy Project, or GAP, a juvenile justice service provider that has been at the center of a four-year dispute over juvenile justice contracting and expenditures.

The report took nine months to complete, following a three-year investigation by the state Department of Juvenile Justice that, last year, concluded GAP used contracts with the youth corrections agency for personal gain, for instance buying meals at a steakhouse and tickets to a film festival and paying off staffers' parking tickets.

The Chief Inspector General's Office cleared the Girls Advocacy Project, or GAP's, former director, Vicki Lopez Lukis of any wrongdoing related to perhaps the investigation's most serious allegation, that Lopez Lukis had falsified invoices that were submitted to DJJ. The report concluded that "no evidence was identified or found to indicate that any invoices were falsified or that contractual services were not delivered."

The report left undetermined whether the majority of the allegations concerning GAP were true or false. The review, the governor's office wrote, was intended only to gauge the quality of DJJ's earlier efforts — which it found lacking — not to investigate the case anew.

DJJ's former inspector general, Mary Roe Eubanks, "failed to thoroughly and sufficiently" investigate many of the claims against GAP, instead drawing conclusions she lacked the evidence to draw, the new report concludes.

Lopez Lukis did not reply to emails from the Miami Herald.

But in a letter to Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel, GAP's president, Melissa McKinlay, said agency leaders were "relieved that the (report) has confirmed what we always knew to be the case."

"The DJJ (inspector general) investigation was not conducted in a diligent and complete manner, and reasonable steps were not taken to ensure that sufficient evidence was collected," McKinlay wrote. "GAP remains firm in that it never knowingly or willfully violated any Florida statutes and/or rules."

The brunt of the report's criticism falls on the Department of Juvenile Justice, which, inspectors wrote, executed two contracts with GAP — one for about $375,000 and another for about $1.5 million — that did not specifically forbid the expenditure of taxpayer money on personal items. Though other state documents, including a June 2006 memo from the state's chief financial officer, do specify what expenses are allowable under state contracts, such details were never spelled out in the two contracts.

DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters, who is a close friend of Lopez Lukis, but was not the agency head when most of the controversy was brewing, issued a lengthy statement outlining a series of steps her agency already has taken to "reform" DJJ's contracting efforts. They include:

• The creation of a fiscal monitoring unit to oversee contract expenditures,

• The development of a "quality control initiative" among contract managers "that ensures contracts are monitored, outstanding issues are addressed and contract managers are maintaining proper documentation,"

• The appointment of a new agency inspector general, Robert Munson, who was a financial crimes investigator, among other things, during a two-decade stint with the U.S. Secret Service.

Eubanks, his predecessor, was allowed to resign from the department in lieu of firing last June after a 25-year career in state government.

GAP's contract with Florida's youth corrections agency was not renewed earlier this year.

Lopez Lukis, in correspondence with the state, and McKinlay had argued strenuously that Eubanks had acted in her investigation with "malice" toward GAP. Eubanks had failed to interview Lopez Lukis or other GAP employees before concluding her investigation, and did not provide a copy of the report for Lopez Lukis' review before completing the probe and allowing it to be released to the public — which state policy requires.

In her report, Miguel wrote that she "did not find sufficient evidence to indicate that the noted deficiencies" in Eubank's effort "were based on malice toward GAP or GAP's employees."

The controversy over GAP began in 2008, when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman, a veteran of the child welfare judiciary, told DJJ's then-general counsel she had concerns that GAP employees were misusing state taxpayer dollars on items that did not directly benefit delinquent girls, such as lobbying state lawmakers and paying personal cellphone bills — allegations Lopez Lukis denied. DJJ's report on the allegations was released three years later, after investigators with the state Department of Financial Services, who reviewed the probe, concluded in a brief memo that they saw no evidence that GAP had broken any laws. DFS did recommend, however, that juvenile justice administrators seek reimbursement of tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money.

On Nov. 17, 2011, Lopez Lukis asked the governor's top investigator for an independent review of Eubanks' findings, saying the report contained "a multitude of errors and omissions" and that Eubanks' staff had failed to seek her side of the story before releasing it.

From the beginning, Lopez Lukis had said that no language in her contracts barred any of GAP's expenditures.

DJJ probe of Miami group bungled, state says 09/14/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 14, 2012 11:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Plan your weekend Aug. 18-20: Elvis in concert, Jason Aldean, Monster Jam Triple Threat, Sing-Along Grease

    Events

    Plan your weekend

    The king

    Elvis: Live in Concert: This year marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, and Ruth Eckerd Hall will have a Graceland-produced Elvis concert on a movie screen, accompanied by a full live orchestra. Graceland calls it the closest audiences …

    Handout photos of Elvis: Live in Concert, a tour spectacle featuring a live orchestra backing the voice of Elvis Presley, projected onto a movie screen. The tour comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall on 8/18/17. Credit: Graceland.
  2. Woman convicted in murder of 18-year-old with cerebral palsy gets lighter term

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Linda Bonck, a 90-pound Chamberlain High School senior with cerebral palsy, lived near Tampa's Lowry Park. She struggled to walk and talk but was known for being friendly and trusting of strangers until she vanished one day in 1992.

    Georgia Miller, 39, was convicted for the 1992 murder of Linda Bonck, an 18-year-old Chamberlain High School student who had cerebral palsy. Originally sentenced to life in prison, Miller was resentenced Wednesday to 65 years, the result of U.S. and Florida Supreme Court decisions that found it unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life. With gain time, Miller will be released from prison in the next six years. [Florida Department of Corrections]
  3. Boynton Beach woman arrested on DUI, child abuse charges

    Criminal

    A Boynton Beach woman was arrested Saturday and faces DUI and child abuse charges after she blew a .200 on a breath test with an unbuckled child in the backseat, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.

    Brandy Lerma, 31 of Boynton Beach, was arrested on DUI and child abuse charges on Saturday. [Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Editorial: Why can't Hillsborough commissioners move Confederate monument?

    Editorials

    The violence in Charlottesville, Va., crystallized for much of the nation the danger of refusing to address painful symbols of the past. But not so in Hillsborough County, where the County Commission on Wednesday reversed itself yet again and left open the possibility of leaving a Confederate monument outside the …

  5. Former WTSP employee sues station's parent companies for gender discrimination

    Civil

    A former director at WTSP-Ch. 10 has sued the station's parent companies, claiming she was the victim of gender discrimination.