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Criminal investigation involving the Tampa Bay Child Protective Agency is now dormant after leads dry up

By on September 2, 2022 0

PINELLAS CO., Fla. (WFLA) – A strident announcement from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office regarding a criminal investigation into the Tampa Bay area’s top child protection agency took place less than a year ago. year, but now the investigation is quietly dormant.

8 on Your Side had exposed the problem of foster children sleeping in Eckerd Connects offices and waiting long hours in cars for placements for several years, at one point prompting the nonprofit to switch funds. -treating.

Last November, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri held a press conference about his intention to press charges against Eckerd and his senior management, calling conditions in the agency’s Largo offices “disgusting and deplorable.”

“The conditions are as bad or worse than the living conditions the children were taken from,” Gualtieri said. “I believe the situation created by Eckerd constitutes child abuse and neglect.”

10 months later, with no announcement or availability on camera, the investigation is inactive, according to the Public Information Sgt. Amanda Sinni.

“He is inactive as at this time we have no leads to follow up,” Sinni wrote in an email. “To date, we have not established probable cause to establish all elements of a criminal offence. We will not be providing anyone for an interview.

Stetson law professor Steven Stephens served as a Hillsborough County judge for 20 years, including time on the business court bench. He said criminally indicting a company in state court is “very rare.”

“You see it in federal court,” Stephens said. “I don’t know if I saw it [in state court] in all my years.

Stephens did not comment specifically on the Eckerd investigation, but said there were several reasons a criminal case would remain dormant, including a lack of reliable witnesses and changes in the law.

He said developing evidence against executives is often more difficult than uncovering evidence that incriminates their company.

“You’re going to see corporate lawsuits more often when they don’t have very good evidence against one of the individuals,” Stephens said. “But they have clear evidence that a crime has been committed and they feel it is imperative that something be done to tackle the crime.”

And while an executive could face jail time, a criminal conviction against a company would result in fines, Stephens said.

A spokesperson for Eckerd said the nonprofit did not want to comment on new developments in the investigation.

In a November statement, Eckerd said the company would cooperate with the investigation even though agency officials “do not believe that Eckerd Connects violated any laws.”

Eckerd and the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) have decided not to renew their contract in Pasco and Pinellas counties before it expires late last year. Eckerd had been the state contractor in this area since 2008.

Eckerd and DCF also parted ways in Hillsborough County in June.

Jacksonville-based Family Support Services took over in Pasco and Pinellas. Children’s Network of Southwest Florida now has the Hillsborough contract.

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