Amid Child Welfare Concerns and Numerous Hearing Impaired Violations, Millions Paid in Shelter Employee Compensation
SPRING HILL – Despite growing concerns of criminal activity and cover ups inside a local domestic violence shelter, millions of taxpayer dollars continue to funnel into the facility, most covering employee salaries and benefits. But it’s the numerous ADA violations against the hearing impaired, child welfare issues, and other State agency failures that has the community up in arms.
Dawn Center has long been the focus of controversy but when two former shelter occupants shared their concerns with the Board of County Commissioners, the political powers who stand guard over the questionable organization turned up the heat on those “blowing the whistle.” RELATED ARTICLE
Dawn Center is primarily funded through federal grants, to the tune of over a million dollars each year, but it’s the ratio of employee benefits to total revenue that raises the most concerns.
In 2015, Dawn Center’s total revenue was $1.36 million, with salaries and benefits topping nearly $550,000. In 2016, Dawn Center earned just over one million dollars, with a salaries and benefits at over $560,000. This year’s salary and benefit packages skyrocketed to over $900,000, and next year it is expected to reach over $933,000. The total revenue for this year is unknown.
Although shocked over the staggering employee compensation packages for the 42-bed facility, it’s the administration’s refusal to address safety issues and the unambiguous criminal element plaguing the compound that angers former occupants, and the community as a whole.
Former occupant, Melanie Ladd, directed a recent Facebook Post to Dawn Center administrators, stating, “This makes me so angry at Sheriff Al Nienhuis, Dawn Center Board Members, and the Administrators, who go around pretending to have no money to help the women inside the shelter. Well maybe THIS is why…” Ladd posted the 2017/2018 salary benefit schedule, which drew stark criticism and heated debate from commenters. FOLLOW THIS LINK TO ORIGINAL FACEBOOK POST
Ladd goes on to attack Sheriff Nienhuis for his roll in protecting the Dawn Center’s interests, by stating, “No wonder the Sheriff sends out a hit squad on a victim to intimidate her into not speaking out.” Ladd is referring to the Sheriff ordering Detective Galarza to interrogate former occupant, Ashley Weider, after she made allegations of drug dealing, prostitution, and violence that she says occurs inside the facility.
Sheriff Al Nienhuis replied to the post, calling the claims a “Conspiracy,” when he stated, “…I would encourage anyone who does NOT have a record of being accused of domestic violence (or any other serious crime) to consider volunteering for their local domestic violence or homeless shelter. You will find a LOT of dedicated workers and volunteers (dozens and dozens, which is way too many VERY good people to permit this conspiracy).” Facebook users can click the link above to read the Sheriff’s entire statement.
As a non-profit, Dawn Center must follow Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) Guidelines, in addition to federally mandated regulations, including adherence to the American Disabilities Act (ADA).
Through our investigation, RNRF discovered repeated violations against the deaf and hearing impaired, financial and personnel discrepancies, and child welfare concerns.
According to the last five FCADV annual audits, Dawn Center was cited numerous times for not having “Support to the Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Attestation Forms,” employee hearing impaired training certificates, and TDD Hotline accessibility.
The most notable violations were that of non-compliance issues with TDD/TTY. Every year Dawn Center has been unable to effectively provide communication services for the hearing impaired. During six recent test calls on the TDD/TTY system, Dawn Center failed to answer every single call.
According to Data from an eight-year survey of college students at Rochester Institute of Technology, Deaf and hard of hearing individuals are 1.5 times more likely to be victims of relationship violence, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, psychological abuse and physical abuse in their lifetime.
Other violations include not having the proper documentation for travel expenses, leaving chemicals easily accessible to children, a shed positioned near the playground that is in disrepair, roach infestation (Health Department Violation), and not having a qualified Services Management Supervisor on staff.
All of these issues confirm what dozens of former occupants say is wrong with the facility. And many feel it’s a slap in the face to see politicians and board members gloat over a newly constructed dog kennel, when there are more critical problems to be addressed.
Earlier this year, the Rotary Club of Brooksville constructed a new dog kennel and kitty cottage for residents of Dawn Center. The Rotary Club donation comes at the same time that Dawn Center Board Member and State Representative Blaise Ingoglia joined State Democrats in passing legislation to protect animals living among abusers. CLICK FOR FULL STORY
Turns out, many of Dawn Center Board Members are also member of the Rotary Club of Brooksville – namely, Karen Nicolai, April Johnson, and Randi Allocco (Commissioner John Allocco’s wife), Brittany Oakland, Julie Ingoglia (Rep. Blaise Ingoglia’s wife), and Hernando County Sheriff’s Office Attorney Joel Fritton.
QUID PRO QUO
A few years ago, RNRF uncovered a quid pro quo relationship between the Dawn Center and a Hernando County Judge who presided over domestic violence cases.
Dawn Center provides free office space inside the Clerk’s Office at the Courthouse in downtown Brooksville. Dawn Center advocates also provide legal advice to women seeking restraining orders and will sit with them during criminal and civil court hearings.
RNRF discovered that then-Dawn Center Board Member, Judge Kurt Hitzemann presided over criminal cases involving domestic violence and would order most defendants to probation. But what people didn’t know was that part of a defendant’s probation fees went directly to the Dawn Center. Judge Hitzeman immediately resigned from the Dawn Center Board of Directors, after his questionable relationship was revealed.
The Sheriff’s Office also has a relationship with Dawn Center in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
According to Prison Rape Elimination Act audits (PREA), Dawn Center staff and the facility’s Director, Shannon Sakolowski, assists the Sheriff’s Office Detention Center with counseling services, and oversees sexual assault services to inmates who need medical and mental health treatment.
Despite multiple attempts to interview Dawn Center administrators, throughout our investigation, the only person to respond to some of our numerous inquiries is past-President and current Board Member Sheriff Al Nienhuis.
Nienhuis vehemently defends Dawn Center and refutes any claim that he is involved in covering up criminal activity. But when asked about specific allegations involving drugs, abuse, prostitution, and other crimes, Nienhuis says he wont investigate hearsay claims. Even though, according to a 2015 report, the Sheriff’s Office responded to Dawn Center 187 times. But Melanie Ladd and Ashley Weider ask why he would order a Detective to investigate [why] occupants are making claims, rather than investigating the actual allegations.
Instead of answering question posed by RNRF, Dawn Center staff and Board Members take to social media, in an effort to discredit, demonize, and slander the reputation of anyone who dares question Dawn Center operations.
Dawn Center “Operative” and former Florida News Flash reporter, Dorothy Famiano, even went so far as to accuse RNRF of “feeding” victims information for our reports. Famiano writes, “Thomas Lemons has and still is trying to influence victims to post for him…” She goes on to say, “My question to Tom still stands… Simple yes or no answer as to whether or not he has fed information to victims of crime and abuse to further his own agenda of hurting or to ‘piss off’ the Dawn Center and the HCSO.”
Furious over Famiano’s statement, Melanie Ladd says, “He [Tom Lemons] is the ONLY ONE that has given us a voice! People like you are only working to take it away and you truly should be ashamed of yourself…”
It should be noted that the now-defunct Florida News Flash is owned in part by Dawn Center Board Member Blaise Ingoglia – Famiano’s former employer.
Ladd and Weider say, due to a conflict of interest with Sheriff Nienhuis sitting on the Dawn Center board of directors, it would be inappropriate for the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office to conduct an investigation into their allegations. Ladd and Weider say they’ve contacted outside agencies for assistance, including the FBI, FDLE, and other state agencies.
We will continue to bring more on this story as it develops.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ™2013 – 2017 RNRF Incorporated.