Sen. Bill Nelson seeks money to investigate reform school

03/27/2013 4:20 PM

03/27/2013 4:42 PM

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Wednesday that he's pursuing funding from a $3 million federal grant program to help identify buried remains at a defunct boys' reform school in the Florida Panhandle.

The grant money is meant for exhuming bodies and identifying them through DNA, the Democratic senator told reporters.

Nelson said he was contacted by a brother of a boy who died at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. The senator said he knew the school well as a boy because his family would pass it as they drove to see relatives in the Panhandle.

"It was kind of known, 'You don't want to be sent to the boys' reform school,'" he said.

Former students have alleged that physical and sexual abuse — and even wrongful deaths — occurred at the school. It opened in 1900 and closed in 2011. A building known as the "White House" was notorious for beatings.

University of South Florida anthropologists have previously said they found at least 50 gravesites on the grounds and suspect there may be as many as 100. They say additional research likely will turn up more gravesites.

The Department of Justice refers to the grant as "Using DNA Technology to Identify the Missing." The deadline for applications is May 6, according to the department's website. Two to four awards are expected to be given.

Also Wednesday, Nelson said he was asking for an investigation into the federal "Hardest Hit" program, aimed at assisting unemployed and underemployed homeowners.

Money from the program was to be used to help pay some mortgage payments or make a delinquent loan current. The senator said Florida received $1 billion in 2010 but has used only about 15.7 percent of it so far.

Stephen P. Auger, executive director of Florida Housing Financing Corporation, responded in a letter to Nelson released to news outlets that "more than $230.5 million in Florida's (Hardest Hit fund) dollars has been committed on behalf of 9,052 homeowners."

That equates to a 38 percent approval of completed applications, he wrote.

"Our staff is working tirelessly to put this federal assistance into the hands of homeowners who qualify for and need it," Auger wrote.

Nelson, serving his third term in the Senate, also said Wednesday that he had "no intention to run" for governor against Republican incumbent Rick Scott.

Nelson beat three Republicans for his current seat: Former congressman Bill McCollum, then-congresswoman and former Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris and then-congressman Connie Mack IV.

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