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Bucs concessionaire ends relationship with New Beginnings

CEO Tom Atchison defends New Beginnings as voluntary.
Published Dec. 6, 2014

TAMPA — The concessions company for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has cut ties to a homeless charity that sent its residents to work without pay at Raymond James Stadium in exchange for their shelter.

"The recent allegations are deeply concerning and after further review, we have decided to end our relationship with New Beginnings," Aramark said in a statement.

Friday's announcement was made two days after Tampa Bay Rays concessions company Centerplate also dropped New Beginnings, which for years has sent its destitute residents to work unpaid concessions shifts at local professional sporting events and concerts to bring money back to the program.

Also Friday, Rep. Kathy Castor's office confirmed that she has asked the federal Department of Labor to consider investigating New Beginnings, which has also had its homeless residents work in construction, landscaping, telemarketing, and other industries over the years in exchange for food and shelter.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner asked Castor's office this week for an inquiry into New Beginnings' "work therapy" program, which Beckner called "legal human trafficking."

Although New Beginnings founder and CEO Tom Atchison has defended his program as voluntary, labor lawyers and homeless advocates have called it exploitative and possibly illegal.

In a phone interview Friday, Atchison expressed disappointment that Aramark will no longer let his homeless residents work off their $600 monthly rent and program fees at Bucs games.

"I'm disappointed that Aramark has made this decision that will affect many of our residents," Atchison said.

He welcomes a federal labor inquiry.

"I'm hoping to expedite that … so the results can be, whether good or bad, we'll know where we're at," said Atchison, 61, also pastor of New Life Pentecostal Church in Tampa.

Friday's news means a continued drying up of revenue sources for New Beginnings, which has come under fire for its work therapy program, questionable uses of public grant money, and complaints from former residents and employees about how the program controls its finances — all the focus of a Tampa Bay Times story on Sunday.

Last month, Hillsborough government rejected the charity's bid for a multimillion-dollar shelter contract and suspended a $64,000 grant to New Beginnings over several concerns about its financial condition.

On Wednesday, a man New Beginnings listed as its "auditor" in its bid for the shelter contract told the Times his signature was forged and the audit of the charity's finances in the bid documents — required by the county — was a fraud.

Contact Will Hobson at whobson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3400. Follow @TheWillHobson.

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