An investigation by state juvenile justice administrators into a Miami group that was paid hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to mentor girls in detention centers was sloppy, incomplete and drew conclusions without sufficient evidence, a new report says.
The Office of the Chief Inspector General, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, released a 123-page report Friday afternoon on the Girls Advocacy Project, or GAP, a juvenile justice service provider that has been at the center of a four-year dispute over juvenile justice contracting and expenditures.
The report took nine months to complete, following a three-year investigation by the state Department of Juvenile Justice that, last year, concluded GAP used contracts with the youth corrections agency for personal gain, for instance buying meals at a steakhouse and tickets to a film festival and paying off staffers’ parking tickets.
The Chief Inspector General’s Office cleared the Girls Advocacy Project, or GAP’s, former director, Vicki Lopez Lukis of any wrongdoing related to perhaps the investigation’s most serious allegation, that Lopez Lukis had falsified invoices that were submitted to DJJ. The report concluded that “no evidence was identified or found to indicate that any invoices were falsified or that contractual services were not delivered.”
The report left undetermined whether the majority of the allegations concerning GAP were true or false. The review released Friday, the governor’s office wrote, was intended only to gauge the quality of DJJ’s earlier efforts — which it found lacking — not to investigate the case anew.
DJJ’s former inspector general, Mary Roe Eubanks, “failed to thoroughly and sufficiently” investigate many of the claims against GAP, instead drawing conclusions she lacked the evidence to draw, the new report concludes.
Lopez Lukis did not reply to emails Friday from The Miami Herald.
But in a letter to Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel dated Aug. 14, GAP’s president, Melissa McKinlay, said agency leaders were “relieved that the [report] has confirmed what we always knew to be the case.”
“The DJJ [inspector general] investigation was not conducted in a diligent and complete manner, and reasonable steps were not taken to ensure that sufficient evidence was collected,” McKinlay wrote. “GAP remains firm in that it never knowingly or willfully violated any Florida statutes and/or rules.”
The brunt of the report’s criticism falls on the Department of Juvenile Justice, which, inspectors wrote, executed two contracts with GAP — one for about $375,000 and another for about $1.5 million — that did not specifically forbid the expenditure of taxpayer money on personal items. Though other state documents, including a June 2006 memo from the state’s chief financial officer, do specify what expenses are allowable under state contracts, such details were never spelled out in the two contracts.
DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters, who is a close friend of Lopez Lukis, but was not the agency head when most of the controversy was brewing, issued a lengthy statement Friday outlining a series of steps her agency already has taken to “reform” DJJ’s contracting efforts. They include:
• New staff training in contract management and to improve DJJ’s “invitation to negotiate” process with juvenile justice vendors,