Michael LaForgia, Times Staff Writer

Michael LaForgia is a member of the Tampa Bay Times' investigations team. He joined the Times in 2012.

Phone: (727) 892-2944.

Email: mlaforgia@tampabay.com

Twitter: @LaForgia_

  1. County ignored warning signs about homeless program

    Local Government

    TAMPA — As Hillsborough County's Homeless Recovery program was unraveling in September, County Administrator Mike Merrill blamed a pair of misguided middle managers.

    They were at fault, he said, for a program that sent the homeless to live in a squalid, illegal trailer park off Florida Avenue.

    They no longer worked for the county, Merrill told commissioners on Sept. 18.

    But they weren't the only county leaders who were warned of problems and allowed them to continue....

    In May, Ray Reed, a Hillsborough accounting department manager, wrote a detailed memo about payments to William “Hoe” Brown, then-chairman of the Port Authority, who ran a makeshift trailer park on Florida Avenue. Reed cautioned that Brown’s properties might be just one of many dangerous places the county was sending its homeless.
  2. County recoups homeless aid from deaf 4-year-old

    Local Government

    TAMPA

    Salvation for Sam Cruz Jr. and his family came from the unlikeliest of places: his tiny, disabled 4-year-old son.

    Driven into homelessness when Cruz lost his job, the child, his parents and his five brothers and sisters turned to Hillsborough County for help. The county's Homeless Recovery program placed them in a cramped, bug-infested trailer that leaked when it rained.

    In February 2012, the family found a ticket out....

    Hillsborough County placed Sam Cruz Jr. and Melanie Bortz, and their children, from left, Sammie, now 5, Alex, 4, Kaiya, 6, and Karma, 3, and two other kids (not pictured) in a dirty, leaky trailer. Today they are renting a home, above, in West Tampa.
  3. Hillsborough County sent the sick and dying to squalid, unlicensed home

    Local Government

    TAMPA
    Bay Gardens Retirement Village seemed to get worse every year.

    In 2005, state inspectors found filthy, reeking bathrooms, a raccoon living in the ceiling and a patient whose genitals had been bitten by ants.

    In 2007, they discovered a demented man, smeared in his own filth, plucking at his colostomy bag in a stinking, roach-infested room....

    George Thomas says he has never mistreated residents.
  4. Hillsborough agency sent the homeless — and public money — to unsafe, bug-infested homes

    News

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County has paid millions of dollars to house homeless people, including veterans, the mentally ill and families with small children, in filthy, crime-ridden slums across the city, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.

    For years, the poor have lined up at the county's door for help, and county caseworkers have responded by sending them to hazardous and neglected places. There, they were forced to breathe moldy air, step over unmopped puddles of human waste or sleep on mattresses infested with bedbugs....

    A sign in the lobby of the Good Samaritan Inn. City of Tampa code enforcement officers have been called to the rooming house 13 times in the past five years. They recorded complaints of leaky ceilings, mold, feral cats, roaches and, within the past two years, bedbugs and biting flies.
  5. Hillsborough staff: Use nonprofits instead of Homeless Recovery

    News

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County government should close its troubled Homeless Recovery program and seek help from private social service agencies experienced at finding housing for the poor, county staff will tell commissioners today.

    A staff memo released to the Tampa Bay Times says the county should ask Hillsborough's nonprofit homeless aid organizations to submit proposals for how they could help provide emergency housing and other services for the poor, in the hopes a new program could replace Homeless Recovery by Jan. 1....

    William “Hoe’’ Brown owned filthy properties used by the program.
  6. Hillsborough spent millions housing the homeless but can't track where they lived

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County has poured millions of tax dollars over the past 20 years into a program meant to cover rent for homeless people.

    But county leaders can't say for sure whether the landlords they paid actually housed anyone.

    A computer system tracks rent checks paid each month under the Homeless Recovery program. The system, though, does not record the addresses where tenants are supposed to be living....

    People line up outside the Hillsborough Homeless Recovery office in August. The agency came under scrutiny earlier this month after a Times report that clients were sent to live in a squalid mobile home park owned by William “Hoe” Brown.
  7. Educators running government-funded tutoring companies create concern over conflicts

    K12

    As principal of some of the poorest public schools in Alachua County, Beth Le Clear urged her students to take advantage of subsidized tutoring, extra instruction for Florida's neediest kids.

    Scores of her schoolchildren — some so destitute they wore grocery bags for underwear — enrolled and got the study help they sorely needed.

    But they weren't the only ones who benefited....

    Alachua County Schools Superintendent Dan Boyd says he does not feel deceived by Beth Le Clear over her involvement with Twisted Tutors.
  8. Lawmakers battle behind the scenes for tutoring money

    K12

    TALLAHASSEE — As the legislative session neared an end this month, state Rep. Erik Fresen found himself in an awkward position.

    Just last year, Fresen helped keep a torrent of public money flowing to private tutoring firms.

    But after revelations of fraud and lax oversight turned the program into a black eye for education reform, his new orders from House leadership were clear: End subsidized tutoring, and do it now....

    Rep. Erik Fresen
  9. Lawmakers end subsidized tutoring program

    K12

    TALLAHASSEE — A last-ditch effort by South Florida lawmakers to keep millions of dollars flowing to private tutoring companies suffered a resounding defeat on Wednesday, giving Florida school districts control over $100 million in federal education money for the first time in a decade.

    It happened when two Miami-Dade lawmakers tried to attach funding for subsidized tutoring into a fast-tracked bill that would expand online learning....

  10. UPDATED: Senator makes late push to save subsidized tutoring

    Blog

    TALLAHASSEE --- Just when it looked like Florida schools would be freed from state requirements to hire private tutoring companies, a state Senator is making a late push to mandate funding through a fast-tracked virtual learning bill.

    Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, this morning proposed an amendment to an amendment of HB 7029 that would require districts to pay 8 percent of roughly $1 billion in federal education money to private tutoring contractors....

  11. Tutoring for poor children under quiet debate

    Legislature

    TALLAHASSEE — The fight over subsidized tutoring in the Florida Legislature has come down to a quiet confrontation set against an unlikely backdrop — a series of budget talks between the House and Senate.

    As the session winds down, the fate of the controversial program is being haggled over in private because of a last-ditch effort to tie reforms to the state budget process.

    On one side, the Florida House, backed by superintendents of the state's largest school systems, wants to end mandated tutoring for poor students and give districts control over the money....

  12. Have a story about SES? Tell us about it.

    Blog

    Last month, the Tampa Bay Times reported that criminals, cheaters and opportunists are taking advantage of lax oversight to collect millions through a subsidized tutoring program known as supplemental educational services.

    We also reported that companies accused of fraud are welcomed back to do business in the state again and again and that the system, in which vendors are hired by school systems statewide, is rife with conflicts of interest....

  13. State senator proposes crackdown on tutoring companies

    Education

    Criminals would be banned from running subsidized tutoring firms and state education officials would be required to track complaints and bar providers who cheat or commit fraud under a bill filed Tuesday in the state Senate.

    The measure would increase oversight of Florida's troubled, $50 million government tutoring program, which requires school districts to hire private tutors for poor kids in failing schools....

  14. State to crack down on private tutors

    Education

    Florida will crack down on tutoring contractors that defraud school districts and — for the first time — require criminal background checks for people who head tutoring firms under changes announced Tuesday by the state's top education official.

    Education Commissioner Tony Bennett issued a statement outlining a series of steps his department will take to rein in fraud and ensure that tens of millions of dollars in education funding steered to private tutoring firms is better spent....

  15. Lobbying preserved millions for Florida tutoring companies

    Education

    Second of two parts

    Every year for nearly a decade, private tutoring companies have made millions in Florida because the federal government required school districts to hire them.

    That was in danger of changing last February, when the state won freedom from mandated private instruction for poor children in the state's worst schools....

    Gov. Rick Scott’s Education Commissioner, Gerard Robinson, right, was adamant that subsidized tutoring be funded.