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Details emerge as investigations clear Susan Valdes

State ethics investigators dug into child care and computer purchase issues, finding no probable cause of wrongdoing.

With State House Rep. and former Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes now in the clear, more details are available about ethics investigations dating back to 2016.

Teacher Laurie Rodriguez and her husband, retired administrator and former School Board candidate Bill Person, alleged in their complaints that Valdes and her family benefited in two ways from improper acts.

They said Valdes, an alumnus and strong supporter of Leto High School, got free child care for her grandson at a preschool at the school. And they said she intervened in a multimillion-dollar computer purchase, with that action helping a campaign supporter.

The state Commission on Ethics found no probable cause to move ahead on either matter.

The reports - the complete file is here, while the summary report is here - include details that have not been previously reported.

In the matter of the child care bill:

1. Valdes’s grandson was enrolled in Little Leto in 2015, after a back to school fair where the child’s father, Alexander Valdes, helped clean up when the event was over. Tuition was $105 a week. Alexander Valdes liked the center. He and the child’s mother were unemployed at the time, and living with Susan Valdes.

2. Susan Valdes spoke with Larry Sykes, then chief of schools, about possible sources of tuition assistance. Sykes spoke with Warren Brooks, who was in charge of the workforce education program that ran the center. Child care vouchers existed elsewhere in the county, but had not been used at Little Leto because parents there generally were teachers, and did not qualify under the income guidelines. The district officials said they referred Alexander Valdes to social services offices.

3. The family ran up a bill of $3,885, not including late fees, over a 10 month period. Alexander Valdes received bills, but said he thought they were being taken care of.

4. Other parents in the program began to ask questions about why the child was attending for free.

5. At one point, while district officials were trying to straighten out the situation, a teacher in the childcare program said Sykes and Brooks told her “not to discuss this matter with anyone.”

6. The family withdrew the child following publicity about the complaint.

Ultimately, the investigation showed Susan Valdes did not misuse her position and that although the family received unusual treatment, it was not preferential treatment.

In the situation involving the computers:

1. District purchasing staff believed their need for 8,000 computers and 266 charging carts required them to put the purchase out to bid even though they had a contracted technology supplier, UDT. Their head of information technologies, Rick Laneau, thought the bid happened because UDT could not accommodate them, and had said it was all right to bid it out. That, it turns out, was not the case.

2. Arey Jones was the winning bidder. As reported earlier, it was Susan Valdes who asked that the purchased be pulled from the School Board agenda of Nov. 1, 2016. She said the California-based company was unknown to the district. And later she said she wanted to honor her campaign pledge to buy from local suppliers.

3. It was previously reported that UDT chief executive Enrique Fleches gave $1,000 to Valdes’s re-election campaign. What had not been reported was that L. Ortega & Associates of Tampa Bay, the district’s supplier diversity partner for UDT, donated another $1,000 to Valdes’s campaign, plus $800 in computers.

The investigation centered largely on whether Valdes was privy to information that was not available to the general public, or information that she would have obtained because of her official position. Neither of these were true.

Therefore, as with the child care situation, there was no probably cause to believe she violated any law.