Women Claim Dawn Center Criminal Activity Covered Up by Sheriff’s Office, Complaints Filed with FBI, FDLE
HERNANDO – Last Tuesday, former Dawn Center occupant, Ashley Wieder, stepped to the podium at the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting and made some disturbing allegations about the local domestic violence shelter. (ORIGINAL REPORT)
Wieder, like so many other women who’ve contacted RNRF over the years, say everything from drug abuse, drinking, thefts, violence, and even prostitution have gone on in and around the facility but the Sheriff’s Office refuses to do anything about it – until now.
The day after Wieder spoke to the BOCC, a Colonel with the Sheriff’s Office dispatched Detective Shawn Galarza (unsolicited) to interview Wieder at her home. Our previous report included audio from that interview, where Det. Galarza is heard telling Wieder that if she is lying about her claims, she will be arrested. Det. Galarza goes on to say that “no one uses the term BOCC to describe the Board of County Commissioner,” when in reality, nearly everyone uses that term. Galarza also states that a “Thorough investigation” was conducted after my 2015 report but after receiving a copy of the report from officials, it really didn’t seem that thorough at all.
According to the short investigation conducted by Patrol Deputy, Matthew Spooner, between October 21st and 22nd, 2015, “…there was no evidence located to support the allegations of ongoing criminal activity, specifically related to residents of the Dawn Center.” But Spooner never investigated criminal activity inside the Dawn Center, he only spoke to 10 local residence who live near the facility and its Director, Shannon Sokolowski. Despite several residents testimony, Deputy Spooner still determined that no probable cause existed to investigate further.
After relaying the information discovered in the report to Wieder and another former occupant, Melanie Ladd, they decided to take their complaints to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Ladd told RNRF during a phone interview today, “I was supposed to speak to the BOCC alongside Ashley last week but I could not make it.” After watching Wieder’s testimony on the RNRF video segment, Ladd says, “I was so hurt and angered by the look on Commissioner John Allocco’s face during her presentation that I’ve decided to do something about it.” Ladd is referring to what appears to be Commissioner Allocco “smirking” during Wieder’s testimony. When Ladd was made aware that Commissioner Allocco’s wife, Randi Allocco sits on the Dawn Center Board of Directors, she was even more disappointed in his demeanor, and says, “Now I’m starting to see how the political corruption works in this county.” Ladd currently lives in Pinellas County and still struggles to raise her children alone.
Both Ladd and Wieder say they’ve contacted the FDLE to file complaints over what they say is Sheriff Al Nienhuis covering up criminal activity. They’ve also contacted the FBI because they believe the shelter is committing fraud with federal tax dollars, to the tune of nearly 1 million dollars per year.
We spoke with FBI Spokesperson Andrea Aprea who could not comment on the details of specific investigations but says, “As a general matter, allegations of criminal conduct are reviewed by the FBI for their merit, with consideration of any applicable federal laws… When warranted, we take any actions appropriate to the matter, such as seeking further information or referring the matter to a partner agency.”
Ladd and Wieder believe that due to Sheriff Al Nienhui sitting on the Board of Directors, the Sheriff’s Office cannot perform an impartial investigation.
After publishing Friday’s report on the allegations facing the Dawn Center, RNRF received numerus comments from angry citizens who expressed their discontent with both the Sheriff’s Office’ handling of the situation and the Dawn Center’s refusal to make changes.
One letter we received was sent to the Dawn Center by former long-time donors, Rob and Mary Harper.
Here is that letter in its entirety:
Due to the recent allegations and history of numerous complaints, my wife and I hereby withdraw from Saturday’s event (Dash for the Dawn Center) and insist that you refund our fees for participation and accompanying t-shirts.
For one, we have no desire to support an institution that caters to criminal elements while under the pretense of supporting people – strike that – women in need. Secondly, wearing anything seemingly in your support appears now to be at least embarrassing if not outright abetting.
Your credibility is now as low as Al Nienhuis’ and his band of cowboys who frequently forget that they serve the people of this county rather than rule them. The Sheriff is the first since Nixon to make me squirm at having the same political affiliation.
I you want to regain some positive aspects of your existence and substantiate your funding with true needs, might I suggest you request and submit to a thorough inspection by a solid organization like the Spring in Tampa.
Investigation by HCSO and the likes of Det. Galarza is just so much hot air and will never regain you the confidence of the people of Hernando County.
Rob and Mary Harper
Here are a few comments from our Facebook Viewers following last Friday’s report:
Noreen Bigler Sphikas: Unfortunately my daughter spent time there 5 yrs ago, her clothing glasses & money we’re stolen, she was a victim of domestic abuse, she is & was a recovery addict, drugs were common occurrence, needless to say the staff were useless. Woman go there for help & their concerns were only their bottom line! No assistance for recovery no groups for abuse victim’s, it was like an out of control frat house! Shame on them!
Maureen Molloy: Thank you Tom for posting this. The corruption is disgusting. A place like Dawn Center is needed, but it needs a deep cleaning from head to toe.
Donna Proctor: The article states the board is made up of all power-brokers. They’re all also Republican so I’m not that surprised. Personally, if I were this woman I’d be complaining at the state level.
Craig Craig: She needs to call fdle and demand an investigation on the sheriff as he sent out Det.Galarza
Mona York: Started to volunteer there, and had to walk away just couldn’t go along with their ways of running things.
Janet Malley: Good 4 her if this is true, I am a dv survivor and if these woman are going back to their abuser because of all these shenanigans that are going on, then people need to be held accountable.
Lynn Nash: Sad they focus more on ppl who get themselves addicted to alcohol or drugs instead of helping the women in a domestic violent situation . I’d say they most definitely need to be looked into!!! It’s supposed to be a safe place to go an talk with people!! I’ve had to go to them myself for situations an hearing this i don’t think id wanna go back to talk to anyone!!
Erika Lebron: I have heard from multiple sources about what goes on there, which is why I changed my mind about a job interview I had for them. Kind of wish I had gone now so that woman would have someone else on her side.
Shy Pearce: A million a year for what? They don’t do anything for you except let you stay there! I walked to find a job, bought and prepared my own meals, bought my own toiletries & received help from the state through the trike victims fund to move into a place.
Cheryl MyersL Raymer: Dawn Center used to be great back when it started. Wouldn’t contribute anything to them now.
Donna Krauss Schultz: Corruption on every level! Can’t trust anyone anymore. Thank you Tom L for keeping us informed with the TRUTH!
I asked Spokesperson Denise Moloney if they would consider forwarding the investigation to an outside agency, due to the conflict of interest, and she said, “If any person has first-hand knowledge or evidence of criminal activity, we would encourage them to contact the HCSO so their concerns can be appropriately addressed.”
RNRF will bring more on this story as the investigation continues…
It should be noted that Employees and Board Member of the Dawn Center have refused to comment on the allegations since 2013.
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