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    Jilted child abuse contractor blames state

    A firm under review after it loses state child abuse investigation contracts wants the Department of Children and Families investigated.

    By CURTIS KRUEGER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 16, 2002


    PINELLAS PARK -- A week after her nonprofit company lost state contracts amid claims of falsified records, Tracy Loomis said it's the state Department of Children and Families that really should be investigated.

    She said the Legislature should "get another agency to provide some sort of oversight for the department, because apparently they need some."

    "Why should they have 50,000 backlogged cases and children are being abused and no one is providing any oversight of these cases and they can cover it up?" said Loomis, vice president of the Florida Task Force for the Protection of Abused and Neglected Children.

    But department officials say they're confident their inspector general can vigorously investigate not just the nonprofit Florida Task Force for the Protection of Abused and Neglected Children, but also the DCF itself.

    The DCF's inspector general already has begun contacting people who have worked for the Task Force, in a probe designed to find out whether the Task Force staff falsified records as it rushed to investigate child abuse cases.

    The Task Force was hired to finish investigating child abuse and neglect cases that had lingered too long on the desks of state investigators. At one point the backlog peaked above 50,000, but it now has dropped below 30,000.

    The DCF inspectors also are likely to look into whether state officials improperly transferred the wrong types of cases to the task force, instead of the low-risk, simpler sorts of abuse cases the department was supposed to be investigating.

    "It is not an allegation that can be ignored, and it is properly being considered as the IG looks at this entire situation," spokeswoman Cecka Green said. She said the inspectors would perform "a full investigation and explore anything that might not be proper."

    Meanwhile, documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service say the nonprofit posted a year-end excess -- sometimes called a surplus -- of $665,885 as of June 30, 2001. Loomis insisted her company did not accumulate an unreasonably high surplus.

    While many nonprofits live hand-to-mouth, Loomis said hers had a payroll of about 50 people and incoming expenses at any given time, and a surplus could quickly evaporate. She said the Task Force had applied for other state contracts and been turned down for not having enough cash flow.

    "You have to understand that we have to carry a surplus in order to obtain additional business," Loomis said.

    But state Sen. Walter 'Skip" Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, said, "At the end of the year, a not-for-profit should not have any money in the bank as profit. ... If you do, you are a for-profit organization, and any excess funds should be given back to the (state)."

    Meanwhile, Loomis said her company was continuing to investigate back child abuse cases under a contract with the Pasco Sheriff's Office, which at this point is the organization's one remaining contract.

    She said she did not know the agency's current cash -on -hand but said "we plan to spend the money on child advocacy ... we have a contract and we're trying to get more contracts."

    -- This story includes information from the Associated Press. Times staff writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at krueger@sptimes.com or by calling (727) 893-8232.

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