Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Judge says Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance should repay state agency more than $55,000

TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance should repay a state agency more than $55,000 after splurging on food, entertainment and swag at taxpayer expense, a Tallahassee administrative law judge decided Friday.

But those behind the spending didn't do anything criminal, an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has concluded.

Judge R. Bruce McKibben, in his decision, found improper spending that included $20,044.50 on awards ceremonies, an $8,138.78 year-end celebration dinner, a $5,161.26 corporate brunch meeting and a $5,555 staff meeting at the Improv comedy club.

"The agenda and speaking points make clear that the primary purpose of this event was not to disseminate technical information," McKibben wrote. "These costs are directly associated with a social event, i.e., food and a show at the comedy club."

McKibben gave the Workforce Alliance — which provides job training to the unemployed and working poor — 90 days to pay the statewide Agency for Workforce Innovation, once that agency orders payment.

The jobs agency defended the lavish dinners by saying the events had to be "upscale" to attract business and community leaders, according to McKibben's order. The judge disputed the necessity of that.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has closed its investigation into the Workforce Alliance, saying it couldn't confirm executives at the publicly funded agency received kickbacks for lucrative contracts.

The state launched its investigation last year amid allegations that the agency didn't take competitive bids for contracts worth more than $3 million.

A tipster told the FDLE that then-president Renee Benton Gilmore favored Strategywise, a Tallahassee consulting company owned by her ex-sister-in-law, which received more than $2 million in contracts.

In its report, the FDLE did not criticize expenditures, saying simply that "Strategywise appeared to provide the services they were contracted to perform."

And after scrutinizing bank records, FDLE inspector Brett Lycett reported he couldn't find evidence Gilmore received kickbacks from Strategywise.

Gilmore, who resigned in February 2010 amid scrutiny of the agency's spending, did not return a call for comment Friday.

Also under scrutiny was Gilmore's purchase of a 2,100-square-foot house from ATA Construction and her hiring of ATA for home renovations. ATA was awarded $1.1 million in contracts with the Workforce Alliance.

The FDLE also investigated Julie Sanon, the Workforce Alliance's then-senior vice president. She approved contracts and had roofing work done by ATA Construction.

In a letter, prosecutor Michael Schmid said the Office of Statewide Prosecution won't be pursing criminal charges against the Workforce Alliance, Gilmore, Sanon, Strategywise or ATA Construction.

Sanon was let go in April 2010 as part of a restructuring that cut 20 management positions. And that month, the Workforce Alliance's interim chief, Ed Peachey, cut the agency's contract with Strategywise.

The U.S. Labor Department is reportedly investigating some, if not all, of the 24 regional work force agencies in Florida, according to Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

"It may not be a criminal issue. It may just be about spending habits," he said Friday. "But it's been proven that the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance was spending tax dollars foolishly and questionably."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Judge says Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance should repay state agency more than $55,000 08/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 13, 2011 12:06am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Car bomb kills 13, injures 24 in Baghdad; Islamic State claims responsibility

    World

    BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad just after midnight today, killing 13 people and wounding 24, hospital and police officials said.

  2. Leaping shark floors angler in Australia

    World

    In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway's protagonist battles for three days to pull in his prized catch. For Terry Selwood, it came a little more suddenly.

    A 9-foot shark lies on the deck of a fishing boat at Evans Head, Australia on Sunday. Fisherman Terry Selwood said he was left with a badly bruised and bleeding right arm where the shark struck him with a fin as it landed on him on the deck. [Lance Fountain via AP]
  3. Rays rally twice to beat Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Monday after he closed out Sunday's marathon win turned out, despite the Rays' best intentions and rigid insistence, to be a bad idea as he gave up four runs without getting through three innings.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers and comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  4. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber

    World

    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  5. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant

    Nation

    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]