Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri on Thursday accused the county’s job placement agency of faking his signature on official documents relating to new hires in his office.
He said what appear to be forgeries by someone at CareerSource Pinellas amount to "unequivocal fraud" by an agency already facing multiple investigations.
"If they’re going to do it with the sheriff, where do they stop?" Gualtieri said in an interview Thursday. "They have no ethics, morals, sense of right and wrong. We’ll look at it, whether it’s criminal. If they’re willing to do it with me, then they have no boundaries."
The signatures appear to show Gualtieri signing off on two new hires under a pair of CareerSource programs that would reimburse the Sheriff’s Office for part of their salaries while they were being trained on the job. But Gualtieri said he has never seen the forms and that his signature appears to have been copied from another document.
"They just ripped it electronically," he said.
The signature of another employee, human resources staffer Evelyn Jones, also was faked, according to Gualtieri.
The sheriff said he was not immediately sure if the faked signatures are illegal, but expressed his concern in a letter Thursday to CareerSource lawyer Charles Harris. He forwarded a copy of the letter to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Office of Inspector General.
"I am frankly shocked and appalled that someone from CareerSource would forge signatures on official documents, much less my signature as the Pinellas County Sheriff," Gualtieri wrote.
Both CareerSource Pinellas and its sister agency, CareerSource Tampa Bay, are under federal, state and local investigation into whether they inflated the number of people they helped find jobs. Also in question is whether the agencies received state incentive money based on exaggerated figures. The U.S. Department of Labor and state DEO are among those investigating.
Harris, the lawyer, is also reviewing the agencies’ job placement figures on behalf of an ad-hoc committee formed by the CareerSource boards in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The committee is scheduled to meet Friday morning.
Harris could not be reached for comment late Thursday. The programs are nonprofits that have received millions in taxpayer dollars to put people to work. They are led by president and CEO Edward Peachey, who could not be reached for comment.
The discovery Thursday brought the controversy to a new level, Gualtieri said. Harris had sent him the forms, referred to as training schedules, to verify earlier this week.
"I haven’t been this shocked by something in a long time," Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times.
He said he was out of the state on the date one of the documents was signed. The date that the other form was signed in his name was a holiday. Jones, the other Sheriff’s Office employee whose name appears on several of the forms, was at her father’s funeral on the day one was signed, Gualtieri said.
Harris sent the documents to him with a list of ten employees who CareerSource records indicated had been deemed eligible for "On the Job Training" or "Paid Work Experience" programs. He asked whether the Sheriff’s Office had agreed to employ the new workers, among them two detention deputies, two child protection investigators and an administrative assistant.
Peachey, the CareerSource CEO, told reporters last week that "no criminal acts" have happened at the jobs centers, in response to questions about their placement figures.
He was placed on administrative leave without pay last week amid the investigations in Hillsborough. He was suspended with pay in Pinellas, but under a unilateral order from the CareerSource board chairman — a move that other board members say may not have been legal. That chairman, Aundre Green, has since been removed from the CareerSource Pinellas board by county commissioners.
Gualtieri ended his department’s contract with CareerSource last month, saying the center had taken credit for placing 624 employees at the Sheriff’s Office, even thought he could not find any record of the agency recommending a candidate. He said the jobs program seemed to be involved in a "scam."
The sheriff’s inquiry, in addition to the state investigation, were preceded by questions from the Times about CareerSource’s job placement figures.
Several people who CareerSource reported it helped place into jobs have told the Times they never received assistance from the agency. Multiple employers have said that CareerSource requested copies of their full hiring lists — including people who did not get the centers’ help.
Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard said late Thursday that she was shocked by Gualtieri’s letter.
"It’s pretty amazing that somebody would have the audacity to forge the sheriff’s signature," said Gerard, a board member of CareerSource Pinellas and a member of the ad-hoc committee. "I don’t think we will be ‘clearing this thing up’ at our ad-hoc committee meeting tomorrow."