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3 posts from June 1, 2014

June 01, 2014

Once under fire, DCF intentionally kept child deaths off the books

At 2 a.m. on Dec. 13, 2013, a Riviera Beach mom woke up to find her newborn baby’s lips were purple. Blood and milk oozed from the girl’s nose. She had stopped breathing.

The baby, authorities say, likely was accidentally smothered to death by her mother, who placed the girl in bed with her and three other children — a practice known as “co-sleeping” that can be lethal to infants. Child welfare investigators had been involved with the family four times before the infant’s death.

An investigator prepared an incident report on the baby’s death later that day and emailed it to a supervisor.

The paper trail ended there.

Kimberly Welles, an administrator at the Department of Children & Families’ Southeast Region, deleted the incident report, email records show. And she instructed the supervisor who wrote it, Lindsey McCrudden, to deep-six it, as well.

“Please do not file this in the system. No incident reports right now on death cases,” Welles wrote in an email that day. “Please withdraw this and thanks. Will advise why later.”

Last November, the Miami Herald was finishing a tally of Florida child abuse and neglect deaths among families that had previously come to the attention of DCF. The count was undertaken as part of a project called Innocents Lost. To track the number of dead children, which soared to new heights in recent years, reporters relied on public records, including incident reports.

Documents obtained after Innocents Lost was published show that starting at least as early as last November, as the Herald was grilling DCF on its problems in preventing the deaths of children under its watch, one branch of the agency deliberately kept as many as 30 deaths off the books — ensuring they would not be included in the published tally. Story by Carol Marbin Miller here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/06/01/4151260/how-dcf-kept-30-child-deaths-off.html#storylink=cpy

Syria's suicide bomber grew up in Vero Beach

Moner Mohammad Abusalha, suicide bomberThe South Florida jihadist identified this week as the first American suicide bomber in Syria grew up in an all-American neighborhood where residents said they were acquainted with the young man and his family, but few knew them closely.

In the gated community of Lakes at Sandridge, where children ride bicycles in the streets and neighbors work in their yards, residents said they recognized Moner Mohammad Abusalha, 22, as the boy who used to love to play basketball and occasionally cause mischief — even if they hadn’t seen him around in a few years.

Abusalha is believed by FBI investigators to be among “dozens” of U.S. residents who have traveled to Syria to participate in that country’s civil war.

On May 25, Abusalha drove one of several trucks packed with tons of explosives into a restaurant in the government-held city of Idlib. It is unknown how many people Abusalha killed in the bombing of the restaurant, which was a popular gathering place for Syrian troops.

The bombed-out remains of the Syrian site, pictured in videos and photographs sent out through social media and posted online, are half the world away from the gated community where the suicide bomber’s parents, Michelle and Mohammad Abusalha, live in a tan-colored stucco house on Orangewood Lane in Vero Beach. Story by Charles Rabin, Lance Dixon, Doaa Soliman and Daniel Chang here. 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/05/31/4150473/suicide-bomber-grew-up-in-vero.html#storylink=cpy

Exodus of Citizens executives to companies with contracts raises questions

In the past three years, at least three senior executives at Citizens Property Insurance who were in charge of multimillion-dollar contracts awarded to private companies went to work months later for those same companies.

Florida’s ethics laws ban state employees from going to work for a company for two years if their duties for the state job involved a contract related to that company. But Citizens, the state-run insurer of last resort, reads the statute more narrowly. Its executives say no one has done anything wrong.

Critics, however, say the situation is evidence of a revolving-door mentality at the public company that handles millions of dollars in contracts each year, and add that it raises serious questions about the fiscal management of the company, whose claims will be paid by taxpayers if Citizens runs out of money after a storm.

“Every dollar you don’t spend is a dollar that goes to pay somebody’s claim,” said Sean Shaw, the former Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate from 2008-10. “They should have a moral compass that says, ‘This is taxpayer money. We are going to be as careful as we should with our own pocketbook.’ ”

The head of the Florida Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, Sen. David Simmons, is calling for the ethics law to be tightened relating to Citizens’ contracts and has ordered Senate staff members to draft legislation to do that.

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