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Agency worker may be punished

A state Department of Children and Families supervisor who helps investigate child abuse in Pasco County may be disciplined for conducting private business on state time.

A report by the agency's inspector general found that supervisor Marilyn Loper conducted some of her private real estate business at the agency's New Port Richey offices.

Loper is a licensed building contractor and Realtor who rents and leases houses that she owns.

The report, released Tuesday, said that people renting property from Loper sometimes brought rental checks to the agency offices. At other times, it said, employees observed Loper conducting private business.

According to office employees interviewed by an investigator for the inspector general, Loper sometimes met with renters at her agency office.

The report quoted an employee as saying that at one time, "Ms. Loper came out of her office and asked him to witness a contract for a sale of real estate property."

Loper also acknowledged to an inspector general investigator that she sometimes returned emergency calls to her tenants. But she said she did so infrequently.

In an interview, Loper denied that she conducted personal business on state time.

"I've always attempted to separate my personal business affairs from my employment," she said. "But given my 20-plus years of state employment, some of those with whom I have a tenant-landlord relationship know where I work."

Loper said she discourages them from contacting her at the office. Nonetheless, Loper said, "Checks have been dropped off for me and contacts have occurred.

"These events have been infrequent, irregular and brief," she said. "They have not compromised my work commitment. . . . While I don't claim to be perfect, I think I've done a good job."

Elaine Fulton-Jones, a spokeswoman for the agency's district office, said District Administrator Michael Becker has not decided what disciplinary action to take against Loper.

"I'm sure he's looking at this very carefully," she said.

Loper also acknowledged to investigators that she sometimes played solitaire on her office computer during work hours, the report said. Loper told an investigator, however, that she did not do so excessively.

According to Loper, Child Protective Investigations, the unit that she heads in Pasco, is "either so busy to the point they do not have time for lunch or they have little or no work at all," the report said.

The inspector general investigation, prompted by an anonymous tip, found conflicting information about the most serious allegation it examined: an accusation that she solicited agency clients for the purpose of renting houses to them.

A child-abuse investigator in Loper's office told the inspector general that Loper approached him about an agency client who was being evicted from her home and asked if he thought the client would make a suitable tenant.

A week later, the investigator said, the client came to the agency's New Port Richey office to speak to Loper about a rental.

Another department employee said Loper approached her to inquire whether the client qualified for federal housing assistance, which the client did.

Loper told the inspector general that "she has never solicited agency clients for the purpose of renting houses to them. She said normally, she would not rent to anyone known by her to be a client of the agency."

Loper, however, said she did rent a house to this one client after an investigator under her supervision asked Loper if she had any rentals available for the person.