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St. Petersburg police investigate finances of Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center

ST. PETERSBURG — Police are conducting "an investigation into alleged fraud" at the Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center, which runs a variety of education, health and job-related programs.

Amid the inquiry, program administrator Kim Ross left her job at the center in December, officials said. But she has not been charged with any crime in connection with the case, and there have been no arrests.

Police spokesman Mike Puetz and Sanderlin officials declined to go into detail about the allegations, saying they are waiting until the investigation concludes.

"We are not talking about it until they've finished," Sanderlin executive director Lounell Britt said.

Britt did say the inquiry concerns money that may be missing from the center's reserve funds. That could affect the agency's ability to deal with bigger emergencies, such as a leaky roof; or smaller ones, such as a client who needs a couple of hundred dollars for rent.

"It took us 20 years to accumulate those funds," Britt said.

But she and board president Dianna King were adamant in saying those recent troubles will not prevent the center from continuing its programs designed to help kids succeed in school, to help adults get GED degrees and jobs, to promote good health, and to provide a center for community activities.

When a reporter dropped by last week, Britt and King briefly discussed the inquiry, but also enthusiastically showed off the programs that are continuing at the center, at 2335 22nd Ave. S.

They include classes that have helped struggling students pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT; SAT and GED classes; reading rooms; an educational summer camp; a computer lab; and a playground that got financial support from the Tampa Bay Rays. Also, there are community rooms used by local groups for everything from church services to wedding receptions.

The center also offers free tax preparation, a "Dress for Success' clothes closet for people who need professional clothes for a new job or job interviews, and health awareness programs. It also houses the University of South Florida's Neighborhood News Bureau.

The Sanderlin center has an independent board and is one of several Neighborhood Family Centers that receive financing from the county's Juvenile Welfare Board. JWB executive director Gay Lancaster said her staff has been able to determine that none of her agency's money is missing.

Ross, the program administrator who lost her job amid the inquiry, could not be reached for comment. In an apparently unrelated incident, she was arrested in January on a charge of failing to redeliver leased property. That charge is pending.

Reach Curtis Krueger at ckrueger@tampabay.com or (727) 893-9232.

St. Petersburg police investigate finances of Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center 03/13/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 5:25pm]
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