Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri severed his agency's contract with CareerSource Pinellas on Monday after learning that the jobs center told the state it helped 624 sheriff's employees get hired since 2014.
The sheriff said he has no record of CareerSource Pinellas ever sending his agency any potential job candidates to review, let alone help get them hired.
The job center offered to provide pre-screened individuals for the Sheriff's Office to consider for civilian positions but never did, Gualtieri said. Instead, the sheriff said the jobs center took credit for placing people in jobs using a list it obtained of the agency's new hires.
"This looks to be a scam," Gualtieri said. "I don't want to participate in this. I'm putting a stop to this nonsense. I'm astounded they did this."
TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: FLORIDA JOBS CENTERS
Last week, state investigators launched an investigation into CareerSource Pinellas and its Hillsborough County counterpart, CareerSource Tampa Bay, after the Tampa Bay Times asked whether the two job centers were inflating the number of people they helped get jobs.
The sheriff said his staff undertook a "deep dive and vetted" the names on the list, and found that at least five people listed as sheriff's employees in the state database had never worked there or even applied for jobs.
For example, he said CareerSource claimed it helped hire a "sports director" for the Sheriff's Office. Gualtieri said his agency has no such position, and the person listed as being hired has never worked nor applied there.
CareerSource also took credit for the 2016 hiring of an information technology worker that Gualtieri said was actually recruited by another firm. There's a retired FBI agent on the list, the sheriff said, that he personally recruited to join his agency's Criminal Intelligence Unit.
"A retired FBI agent doesn't go to CareerSource. I interviewed him," Gualtieri said. "I am very troubled by this."
Both the Pinellas and Hillsborough job centers are run by Edward Peachey, who did not respond to a request for comment. Florida's regional career centers receive federal funding, in part, based on how many people they train and place in new jobs.
During the Times inquiry, it also asked the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office about 624 of its employees listed in a Florida Department of Economic Opportunity database as having been placed there by CareerSource Pinellas.
The sheriff's response: He dispatched a lieutenant to deliver a one-paragraph letter to Peachey severing their contract because CareerSource "breached" the agreement. A CareerSource employee refused to accept the letter because Peachey wasn't at its headquarters off Ulmerton Road in Largo.
The DEO's inspector general is investigating whether both the Pinellas and Hillsborough jobs centers are claiming credit for the kind of hirings that Gualtieri and others are disputing.
The Times found that both CareerSource agencies were asking employers across the bay area to provide information on all new hires, including ones that did not use CareerSource services. The two agencies asked for information such as names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, job titles, salary and start dates.
For CareerSource to take credit for getting people jobs, according to state rules, the job seekers must register in a statewide database and receive placement assistance in a job center. The CareerSource agency then refers them to local employers.
If an employer hires one of them, CareerSource can report the hiring to the state as a successful job placement.
The rules also say people who receive either employment or training assistance at a career center or via employflorida.com and find a job within 180 days can be counted as a placement, according to CareerSource Florida, the statewide workforce policy and investment board.
Several employers told the Times that neither CareerSource agency had anything to do with the employees it hired. Several of the employees also told the Times that CareerSource did not help them get their jobs.
The two agencies received a total of $32 million in 2016, records show.
The agreement called for CareerSource to reimburse the Sheriff's Office for no more than 50 percent of an employee's salary for 10 weeks or 400 hours. The Sheriff's Office received $26,215 for 10 employees, according to records. The sheriff said he will ask county officials to return the money to CareerSource Pinellas.
Gualtieri said he learned how CareerSource Pinellas was getting information about his new hires: It had asked a sheriff's employee to have new workers sign releases that allowed the jobs center to receive their personal information.
"I never authorized this," the sheriff said.
Contact Mark Puente at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente