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Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

The state has opened an investigation into CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, days after the Tampa Bay Times asked about whether the two regional job centers were inflating the number of people they had helped get hired.

The agencies, which train displaced workers and match others to jobs with local employers, consistently ranked ahead of Florida’s other 22 regional career centers. The Times asked the Department of Economic Opportunity whether state rules allow the two local agencies to take credit for the hiring of workers who never sought help at any center that CareerSource operates in the bay area.

"The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Office of the Inspector General has opened an investigation into how CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay report the job placements," department spokeswoman Tiffany Vause said in a statement Friday evening. "The Department expects all workforce development boards to comply with state and federal funding requirements and act in the best interest of the job seekers and businesses they serve."

For CareerSource to take credit for getting people jobs, the job seekers must register in a statewide database and receive placement assistance in a job center, according to state rules. 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 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.

The agencies, which received $32 million in 2016, are funded, in part, based on how many people they train and place with new employers. Either CareerSource Pinellas or CareerSource Tampa Bay has been ranked among the top three career centers in 34 of 36 months, records show. They have reported placing more than 126,000 workers since 2014.

But the Times found that president and CEO Edward Peachey and his employees asked employers across the bay area to provide information on all of their new hires, including ones that did not use any CareerSource services. The two local agencies asked for information including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, job titles, salary and start dates.

In some instances, CareerSource staffers reported those hires as if they had actively helped place them in the new job, when in fact several employers told the Times that CareerSource had nothing to do with those employees getting hired.

Many recent hires contacted by the Times were stunned to learn that the local CareerSource agencies were taking credit for getting them hired. CareerSource Pinellas, for instance, reported to the state that it helped orthopedic surgeon Joseph Borrelli join BayCare Health Systems in 2017.

"I did not go through them for my job," he told the Times. "I wouldn’t go to a government agency. I don’t know why I am on that list."

Peachey, 54, has led CareerSource Pinellas since 2003 and took over CareerSource Tampa Bay in Hillsborough County in 2010. Combined, the two agencies pay him $444,000 in 2016, records show. He has said in the past that he’s worth that much because his agencies are so good at placing people in jobs. Peachey could not be reached late Friday. His attorney, Patrick Causey, declined to comment.

Jack Geller, a lawyer and chair-elect of CareerSource Pinellas, said he was stunned to learn of the investigation and any issues with the reporting of job placements.

"If there is something going on, I want to know about it," he told the Times. "I’m speechless. We need to get to the bottom of this."

Officials at other CareerSource agencies around the state said they only take credit for employees they train or actively help find jobs. They said they do not ask employers for a list of all of their hires.

"We would never ask them to do that," said Anthony Gagliano, business and economic development director at CareerSource Suncoast in Manatee and Sarasota counties. "The system is pretty clear."

In 2013, Gov. Rick Scott rebranded Florida’s 24 "workforce" agencies as CareerSource centers. Twenty of them, including Pinellas and Hillsborough, operate as government nonprofits.

Scott wanted the rebranding after programs in Tampa and Orlando misspent public money.

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996.

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