May 23, 2002
Water district investigates deal with Jeb Bush's former partner
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. - The South Florida Water Management District has begun an investigation of a contract it awarded to a company run by a former business partner of Gov. Jeb Bush.
The district is trying to determine whether its staff improperly gave a $1.9 million deal for water pumps to MWI Corp. of Deerfield Beach, said district spokesman Randy Smith. A report is expected to be released within a week, Smith added.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice sued MWI over the alleged misuse of part of a $74.3 million U.S. loan to sell water pumps to Nigeria.
Bush, who was not accused of wrongdoing, had traveled to Nigeria in 1989 to promote MWI products as a representative of a Bush-El, a company he owned jointly with MWI president David Eller.
The South Florida investigation is into a contract that MWI won on Sept. 25, 2000, for 15 pumps that were needed to extract water from Lake Okeechobee during the third year of a drought, Smith said.
Smith said the district decided to waive normal procurement rules because MWI could offer a fast turnaround time for the order. He did not detail the rules that were waived.
The district's nine-member board is appointed by the governor. At the time the contract was awarded, most members were Bush appointees. Phone calls to the Republican governor's media relations office were not immediately returned early Thursday.
Michael Collins, a Bush appointee who was chairman of the district's board at the time, said he thinks the district's staff often appears to favor certain contractors. But he denied Bush exerted any influence on behalf of MWI.
MWI spokesman Kevin Boyd said the company did nothing wrong in obtaining the contract, and has done business with both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Boyd also said the federal government has dropped a criminal investigation into the Nigeria allegations and that he expected the same result for the civil suit.
© 2001 miami and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
|Active Link. (See below - Jeb Bush eats crow)
Posted on Fri, May 31, 2002
Bush weighs 'heartbreaking' case of abused, retarded girl
BY JONI JAMES
TALLAHASSEE - By the time Kimberly Godwin had been in state care for 10 years, she had been beaten, neglected and malnourished. Then, in 1991, the profoundly retarded woman was raped in her state-approved group home in St. Lucie County.
Her nightmare didn't end there. State workers -- even after learning the diminutive woman was pregnant from the rape -- left her for three months in the same group home where she was assaulted, never telling her parents of her condition.
By the time her parents regained custody, Kimberly was six months pregnant. Doctors said she suffered from pneumonia, dehydration, malnutrition and anemia. The parents took doctors' advice and ended her pregnancy.
Now, Gov. Jeb Bush, already under fire for the disappearance of 5-year-old Rilya Wilson while she was entrusted to the same state agency, must decide whether the state will make amends to Kimberly, now 31, despite the objections of the current leadership of the Department of Children & Families.
By Wednesday, Bush must decide whether to sign or veto a bill overwhelmingly passed by the Legislature that approves paying the $8 million a Fort Pierce jury awarded Kimberly two years ago after her parents sued DCF on her behalf.
Kimberly's intellectual development has never progressed beyond that of an 18-month-old. She's short, at 3 feet 11 inches, but can walk on her own. The curly-haired brunette communicates a little by hand signs but is nonverbal and incontinent. When she feeds herself, she uses her hands, having never learned to use utensils.
''This is an absolutely heartbreaking case, and the governor is still reviewing it,'' Bush spokeswoman Katie Muniz said Thursday.
Kimberly's father is hoping the governor signs the bill.
''Have you ever toted about 500 pounds on your back for 10 years?,'' said Jimmy Godwin, 54, a road construction worker who cares for Kimberly at his Telogia home, about 35 miles west of Tallahassee. ``I've learned to live with the guilt of what putting her in state care did to her, but now I'm just worried sick about not having money to care for Kimberly for the rest of her life.''
(The Herald doesn't usually identify rape victims, but in this case the Godwin family and their legal counsel have done so of their own volition.)
The abuse and neglect Kimberly endured did not happen under the watch of Bush or Kathleen Kearney, the DCF chief now under scrutiny for the disappearance of Rilya Wilson. The abuse and the inept responses from state caseworkers occurred under the watch of two former governors -- Lawton Chiles and Bob Martinez -- when the agency, then called Health and Rehabilitative Services, cared for Kimberly in its developmentally disabled division.
But advocates for the developmentally disabled, and even some of the Legislature's fiscally conservative lawmakers who pushed to pay the verdict, say the current DCF leadership is also guilty of failing Kimberly, in part because the agency lobbied hard for the state to ignore the jury verdict and require Kimberly to seek future care through the state agency. (Under sovereign immunity laws, jury awards in excess of $100,000 per incident against state agencies must be approved by the Legislature.)
For two years, DCF officials appointed under Bush's watch have argued that the Legislature should not spend the $8 million, saying it would mean less money for other DCF services. A psychologist the department hired testified in a legislative hearing 18 months ago that there was no evidence Kimberly suffers permanently in physical or psychological ways from the abuse -- though he never examined her. DCF officials backed off that contention Thursday.
''That argument was made in the context of an evidentiary hearing. That should not be taken out of context,'' said Robert Hayes, a department spokesman. DCF was ready to increase Kimberly's services, Hayes said. But across the board, ''our primary argument for any potential settlement is that it will impact DCF's overall ability to provide services to a larger audience,'' he said. DCF has a 9,000-person waiting list for developmentally disabled services.
But lawmakers didn't agree, saying Kimberly should not be required to trust the same agency that failed to protect her. ''What happened here is just egregious,'' said Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie. ``What was even more egregious was that DCF kept fighting it. They wanted to be absolved of all guilt. I don't know if that is cultural, but the fact is, they just blew this one over and over and over again.''
Kimberly Godwin was 10 years old, living near West Palm Beach and just learning to say ''Mommy'' and ''Daddy'' and ''love you'' when her parents heeded state social workers' promises that if Kimberly moved to a group home she would have better access to special services, such as speech therapy and personal training.
The first sign Kimberly could be at risk came four years later, in 1985, when school officials discovered the girl's entire backside, from her neck to her knees, was black and blue, said Kimberly's attorney, Lance Block of West Palm Beach, one of the state's leading trial attorneys.
At her parents' request, HRS relocated Kimberly to the Schenck Group Home, a state-approved Fort Pierce facility that served six of the region's most challenging developmentally disabled people.
During the next six years, school officials noted Kimberly coming to school filthy, even finding feces under her fingernails, with blistering sunburns, infected cuts and bruises on her face.
In October 1991, a school nurse and teacher alerted HRS and the group home operator of suspicions that Kimberly, then 20, was pregnant, noticing as they changed her diapers that she had missed her period. But HRS officials didn't notify police or take Kimberly to the doctor until after the school principal wrote the suspicions in a Dec. 6, 1991, letter to the agency, Block said. Eleven days later, a doctor confirmed Kimberly's pregnancy.
HRS left Kimberly in her group home, living alongside her rapist -- the home operator's 16-year-old son, who was eventually convicted. The department never notified Kimberly's parents, who had relocated to North Florida.
On Jan. 27, 1992, more than a month after Kimberly's pregnancy was confirmed and three months after school officials first raised suspicions, Kimberly's parents learned of their daughter's condition from a court-appointed attorney representing her interests in the criminal case.
Within a week, with Block's help, they had regained custody. When they took Kimberly to a hospital she was so ill, doctors did a bone-marrow biopsy fearing she was suffering from leukemia, Block said.
Doctors recommended the pregnancy be terminated -- a procedure the Godwins had to borrow money for and for which the state has never reimbursed them, Block said.
SIGNS OF ABUSE
The Godwins took Kimberly back to live with them in North Florida. ''She was like a zombie, she didn't trust anybody,'' Jimmy Godwin said. Kimberly threw her arms up as if to defend herself from blows whenever anyone approached her, he said. If someone entered her bedroom, where she insisted on sleeping with the light on, ''she looked terrified,'' her father said.
Within months, Kimberly was hitting herself and destroying property. A state-paid behavioral therapist told the family the behavior was not unusual for a profoundly retarded person who had been abused.
''All I could think of was, what kind of people let this happen?'' Jimmy Godwin said. ``We treat dogs better than our own kind.''
In 1995, the Godwins sued HRS in St. Lucie court. Her mother, Darlene, died of cancer in 1997 before the case was heard. In March 2000, a jury awarded Kimberly $3 million in damages for four separate incidents and another $5 million to provide services for the rest of her life without having to rely on the agency that had failed her numerous times before. Her guardian could access the account to buy services for Kimberly, but only with a judge's consent.
By the time of the trial, the agency, renamed the Department of Children & Families, had admitted its negligence. But after the verdict, DCF officials argued the state should not pay more than $400,000 -- the maximum under sovereign immunity limits Kimberly could collect without action by the Legislature.
DCF staffers laid out their objections in October 2000 to legislative staff assigned to analyze claims bills in court-like hearings. DCF argued, under a life-care plan it had created for Kimberly, it could provide services for her.
But cross-examination by Block revealed that the agency -- despite being on notice of the Godwins' suit since 1995 -- had only developed its own ''life plan'' proposal for Kimberly that morning before the hearing began.
Legislative staff recommended DCF's plan. But legislators balked: By a 144-6 combined vote in March, they approved the jury award.
''To stonewall for all these years is shameful,'' said Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, who co-sponsored the claims bill. ``This isn't about blame. This is about accepting the state's responsibility.''
Nowadays, Jimmy Godwin said, his daughter is generally back to her old self. She likes to ride in the family pontoon boat on the Apalachicola River, go to Wal-Mart and tag along with her stepsister -- Jimmy remarried last year -- to high school basketball games.
But Jimmy Godwin wishes Kimberly had a social life and intellectual interaction with other developmentally disabled adults. Mostly she's at home with family or state-paid attendants who help look after her 80 hours a week but have no training to help her learn new skills. Her only training is the speech therapy she gets twice a week for 30 minutes.
''I want her to have the fullest life she can,'' Godwin said. ``But if she never gets a dime from the state, I'll do everything in my power to makes sure she's never going back to them. She's had all the help she can stand from the state.''
----------------------------------------------------------------© 2001 miami and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
June 1, 2002
DCF visits fall 437 kids short of Bush order
By Megan Omatz and Linda Kleindienst
The governors order to child welfare workers was clear: See all the children in state care in April and again in May. Confirm that they are not lost.
The purpose of the exercise was to reassure a populace stunned by the disappearance of 5-year-old Rilya Wilson that the Department of Children & Families could account for each and every one of the 44,660 children under its supervision.
But as of Friday morning, the day the state was to have verified the whereabouts of every child, as many as 437 kids had not been seen by a DCF worker in April or in May, according to the DCF general counsels office. Another 591 were visited in April, but not in May.
The figures, while representing about 1 percent of the agencys caseload, left unanswered the question at the heart of the endeavor: Are all of Floridas children in state care safe?
You could have another potential Rilya situation, said Karen Gievers, a Tallahassee-based attorney who represents foster children in court.
Although Sam Chavers, DCF assistant general counsel, released preliminary numbers of the count, the agency did not give any official results Friday.
The governors office said it expects to release the final count Monday.
DCF, however, produced tracking charts for children not seen in April or those not seen in May after reaching a court agreement with the Sun-Sentinel and the Orlando Sentinel. The information did not include numbers on how many of the children not seen are runaways, abducted or placed with people living in another state. That is expected Monday.
Rather than boosting confidence in the states child protection system, the charts show that some children have not been seen by state workers in months or even years. They also reveal that missing persons reports have been filed late or not at all on some children who ran away from foster care or were stolen by parents or relatives.
* A 9-year-old was abducted by a parent from Broward County and last seen by DCF in June 1994. A missing persons report was not filed with police until January 1995.
* A 5-year-old, from Broward, was listed as absconded. A statewide alert issued in DCFs computer system expired in 1999. The department reported it is unknown whether a missing persons report was filed.
* A 13-year-old runaway in Miami-Dade County had not been entered into the departments HomeSafenet computer system, nor had any agency alert been issued, according to the May 15 tracking chart. Police was (sic) called and he stated that child had been missing to (sic) long and nothing can be done about it at this point, the tracking chart states.
The charts, which DCF claims are the basis of its system for verifying the whereabouts of all children, appear at times to provide conflicting and unclear information.
Implausibly, some children, age 0, are listed as runaways.
Some children are categorized as other, ostensibly meaning they were not runaways, or had not been abducted by a relative or placed out of state. Its unclear what their situation is.
Its also unclear whether some children actually had a visit or not. Spoke to caregivers, states an entry for a 13-year-old child in Palm Beach County, according to a May 28 tracking chart. Yet the same entry lists a visit on May 14. Verified by out of district/state official, the document states.
DCF officials said the database was being updated constantly over the month, with new information added about confirmed visits as it became available.
The result, however, is an indecipherable log of comments and dates, the veracity of which is open to debate.
It sounds to me like weve got to bring in either a translator or a decipherer of the code, said Jack Levine, president of the Center for Floridas Children. Were talking Keystone Kops with a tragic undertone.
Boy, grandmom missing
Most conspicuously, DCF officials in Volusia County reported that 11-year-old Joshua Bryant was visited by the department May 22. But Joshua has been the subject of a massive criminal investigation for the past year. He and his grandmother, Lillian Martin, were discovered missing May 12, 2001. Their house appeared to have been ransacked.
At the time, by court order, Joshua was no longer under DCF supervision.
Pat Thigpen, DCF spokeswoman, said the date of the visit appeared to be the date the case was closed by the agency, not the date the child was seen. The entry of a visit was an error.
In my dreams that would be great, Thigpen said of the possibility that the boy received a visit from a DCF worker. That would mean Josh was fine.
At least one odd South Florida case emerged late Friday.
In Palm Beach County, a 14-year-old has been listed as a runaway since 1988, when she would have been an infant. The records, however, state the case should have been an absconsion (sic). But the report also says the childs family told a DCF worker the child was adopted in Iowa. The agency is working with legal to verify and close case, the report states.
David May, DCF district administrator in Palm Beach County, said Friday that the agency confirmed the girl has been adopted in Iowa. The department was not aware of it, he said, because we didnt know where the child was for a considerable period of time.
DCF embarked on the count soon after it was revealed publicly in late April that Rilya Wilson, the Miami girl who had been under state supervision, was missing.
Her caregiver told authorities that someone claiming to be a DCF worker took the girl in January 2001. Agency records showed that the child had not had a required monthly visit from a caseworker in 15 months.
The department was scrambling throughout the day Friday to comply with the governors order to ensure every child had a visit in May by a caseworker and a second-party visit by a higher official. Friday was the deadline for cases to have the second-party verification, to ensure that caseworkers do not lie about visiting the children.
Im sure a lot of employees in the districts will be working into the wee hours of the night, inputting data, said Katie Muniz, communications director to Gov. Jeb Bush.
Mary Allegretti, DCF deputy district administrator in Broward County, said her staff would work through the weekend to finish the second-party visits.
May said Palm Beach County officials had completed about 60 percent of the second-party checks by Friday.
Surprisingly, top department officials said they were not tabulating information in Tallahassee from regional DCF offices on the status of visits to all children in the system, but only on the ones who reportedly were not being seen.
That is a contradiction of what Jeb said hed want from the agency, said state Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale. Were being hoodwinked into thinking the department is fulfilling its mission to our kids.
Campbell said he plans to prepare a letter to Bush asking for a breakdown on all 44,660 children, including the last time they were seen and who saw them.
The task of physically tagging so many youngsters in little more than a month proved to be a chaotic and difficult undertaking.
In Lakeland, a DCF worker reported making three attempts to see a 4-year-old. Mother uncooperative, states a department tracking chart, dated May 15.
In Fort Pierce, records show, the department had problems locating a 14-year-old as of mid-May. Father hiding child since new abuse report made, the document states. Close case with mother.
In some instances, DCF had never arranged for children living outside Florida to be supervised by social workers in other states, or the paperwork was lost, or the courts had deemed it unnecessary.
In other cases, department workers found that their compatriots in outside jurisdictions were unwilling to check on the children for them.
Other county contacted three times. Refused to go out and see child stating they did not have time, states a notation on the May 15 report regarding a 1-year-old living out of district/state.
In Miami-Dade County, a child, now 13, reportedly was abducted by her mother in 1991 and taken to Nicaragua. Requested info/help from the Nicaraguan consulate. No responses, the report states.
In Central Florida, a DCF worker sent to Puerto Rico to place a child in a new home there was pressed into duty to check on five other children ranging in age from infancy to 5. DCF records say the commonwealth has no reciprocal compact with Florida to monitor dependent children.
Said Ken DeCerchio, DCF assistant secretary for programs: Youre getting a glimpse of a real challenging situation our frontline people are confronted with every day.
Megan OMatz can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4518.
Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel