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Saturday, Nov 01, 2014
Politics

Hillsborough social service center manager fired for conflict of interest

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TAMPA — A Hillsborough County social service center manager has been fired for accepting county payments to house homeless clients in rental apartments he owned.

Reginald Earl, who managed the county’s West Tampa Service Center, was fired Sept. 13 after an internal investigation. He was the third employee in the Hillsborough County social services division to lose his job this month.

All the fired employees had connections to the county Homeless Recovery Program, which provides emergency housing for the homeless. But County Administrator Mike Merrill said that unlike the firing of Sam Walthour, social services director, and the forced resignation of homeless recovery manager James Silverwood, Earl’s termination had nothing to do with referring homeless clients to substandard housing.

“He wasn’t really part of the Homeless Recovery Program,” Merrill said. “He was the manager of one of the service centers in Social Services.”

According to the county’s investigation documents, Earl is a corporate officer of a nonprofit company called Community Development Solutions Corp. Records show Earl filled out the paperwork necessary to be an approved vendor for the county in November 2011 but did not mention the business on the county’s employee disclosure statement.

Records maintained by the Homeless Recovery Program show the program paid benefits for two women to rent an apartment from Earl at 2104 W. Cypress Ave. in November and December 2011.

Eight payments were made by the homeless program for the two women’s rent and utilities totaling $1,203, according to the report.

The two social service specialists that managed the cases of the two women said Earl had nothing to do with approving the women’s eligibility or the payment. However, one of the social workers said she found the situation unusual and questioned Earl about who owned the property. She said Earl told her the property belonged to his mother, that she was ill and he was helping her maintain it.

Property records show Earl and his wife, Tara, own the property.

Earl did not return a phone message seeking comment.

When questioned by a county investigator, Earl said he had a special interest in helping the homeless and single mothers. He acknowledged being a corporate officer of Community Development Solutions, along with his wife and mother, Evelyn Taylor, but he characterized the company as his mother’s endeavor.

The report pointed out that one of Earl’s duties with the county included management of the Emergency Shelter Grant Program, which is a funding source for the Homeless Recovery Program.

Earl later admitted to the investigator that his business dealings with the county could be construed as a conflict of interest.

“Do I understand the potential for the appearance ... yes, I do,” he said.

Merrill has asked the county’s internal auditor to investigate the Homeless Recovery Program and other rental assistance programs for fraud and other abuses. The program has been under a shadow since it was disclosed earlier this month that Republican fund raiser and Tampa Port Authority Chairman William “Hoe” Brown received more than $625,000 to house homeless clients in rundown housing.

Merrill said he doesn’t anticipate any more firings in connection with the program but said that will depend on the audit.

“It kind of goes back to the reason I asked for the audit, so someone can come in and take a more thorough look at the program,” Merrill said.

msalinero@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-8303

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