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In wake of inquiry, youth corps tries to put on new face

The possibility of losing state contracts leads the Florida Youth Conservation Corps to form a new entity to vie for the work.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
Published March 20, 2006


DADE CITY - State lawmakers plan to cut off the Florida Youth Conservation Corps from millions of dollars in no-bid highway maintenance contracts.

So FYCC leaders have come up with a new entity to vie for the work: the Youth Development Corps.

"It looks to me like they'll do anything to circumvent the rules and regulations and (get) the dollars," said state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

In previous years, FYCC has received up to $4.5-million in taxpayer dollars to provide highway roadside maintenance jobs to disadvantaged youth. The Dade City-based nonprofit promised its workers educational perks and life skills training, but a St. Petersburg Times investigation last summer found the group provided neither.

The Senate committee that oversees transportation spending plans to bar FYCC from receiving any state contracts for at least a year, said Fasano, chairman of the committee. After learning last week about the creation of the Youth Development Corps, Fasano said he plans to extend the ban to any FYCC-related organization.

The Youth Development Corps is a chip off the FYCC block. It occupies the same industrial park address as FYCC. It is an "at risk youth work experience program" whose stated purpose is to provide "employability skills, training and education for young men and women 18-25 years of age who at time of admission are unemployed or underemployed" - a mission statement lifted verbatim from FYCC documents.

And the two men listed as vice presidents of Youth Development Corps, Bartolome Colom and Terry Blackmon, are the founder and controller, respectively, of FYCC.

The only difference is the front man. Corporate records list Ahmad Nawab Sr., a retired Department of Transportation engineer from St. Petersburg, as the president of the Youth Development Corps. He also serves on FYCC's board of directors.

When a Times reporter asked him about the new group last week, however, Nawab said he had never heard of the Youth Development Corps and had no idea he was the president.

He said Colom and Blackmon had talked to him last summer about the possibility of forming such a group, but "I didn't know if they had started that already."

Nawab said the idea behind creating a new entity was to pare down the operations to a more manageable size, not to escape the negative publicity or sanctions facing FYCC. For now, FYCC remains in operation.

"It was getting too large to manage," Nawab said. "It got scattered all over. They were thinking of dividing into four different areas."

Blackmon, FYCC's spokesman, did not return two phone calls or respond to a list of questions sent by e-mail last week.

Corporate records show the Youth Development Corps was created last September, three months after the Times investigation showed the nonprofit group failed to deliver the promised perks, including a $500 bonus for workers passing the GED test, reimbursement for up to nine credit hours of schooling and a $4,725 scholarship after a year's work.

The investigation also found that the group spent about $7,000 to $8,000 supporting a youth baseball league in the Dominican Republic and $457,215 in four years on travel, conventions and meetings.

In addition to barring FYCC from receiving any state contracts for at least a year, lawmakers plan to require audits and limit each nonprofit group and its affiliates to $600,000 a year in highway maintenance work.

"We're going to put some language in there that makes these groups accountable and makes sure (the Department of Transportation) is dealing with legitimate groups and legitimate individuals," Fasano said.