AMIkids, Fort Lauderdale Youth Treatment Facility, Under Investigation for Sex Abuse UPDATED
Two employees at the Fort Lauderdale branch of treatment facility for troubled youths are under investigation for having inappropriate relationships with a student, New Times has learned.
This afternoon, a representative for AMIkids confirmed that the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice was investigating the staffers, described as a full-time employee and an intern.
The same student was involved in both allegations, and according to Sherri Ulleg, director of communications at the company, the male is still active in the Fort Lauderdale facility.
(Updated below with the names of the AMIkids employees under investigation.)
The accusations flung at AMIkids mirror a round of concerns aired by assistant Broward Public Defender Gordon Weekes in a June 26 letter to DJJ Director Wansley Walters (read it below). In the document, Weekes documents two instances of possible sexual misbehavior on the part of AMIkids staffers.
"I think this is something that is so serious it requires immediate attention," Weekes tells New Times. "If this kind of environment is being created where staff members are engaging in predatory behavior, something has to be done."
Weekes' first allegation documented a picture allegedly found of a "female therapist" on the cell phone of a "male youth who attended the program." "The alleged nude photographs were explicit and strongly suggest the existence of an inappropriate and unlawful relationship," the letter stated.
The second allegation said a "female staff member engaged in a sexual relationship with a male youth attending the program." The relationship ended in a supposed pregnancy. The staffer was allegedly known as "cradle robber" to other AMIkids staffers. Weekes' letter states that the administration may have known about both instances.
According to Weekes, he decided to send the letter after hearing separate accounts of the AMIkids' allegations. "It's a violation of a position of trust."
When New Times spoke with AMIkids' Ulleg Monday afternoon, she acknowledged that separate allegations had been made in recent weeks against an employee and an intern involving the same male student. She declined to give details of what the two women were alleged to have done.
"We have been made aware of two separate allegations: that there was an inappropriate relationship between a student and a female intern, and a male student and a female staff member. Both incidents involved the same male student."
Once the allegations came to light, the organization reported the accusations to the DJJ, Ulleg said. Both individuals were not allowed on campus while the state looked into the issues.
However, as of Monday afternoon, Ulleg told New Times the state had concluded the accusation involving "the student and the staff member was found to be unfounded. And we were notified that our staff member could return to work today."
The investigation was still grinding along about the allegations regarding the student and the intern.
Around 6 p.m., Ulleg contacted New Times with a follow-up email -- it seems like the initial all-clear was premature.
There was an allegation of an inappropriate relationship between a female staff member and a male student. That allegation was immediately reported to and investigated by the Department of Juvenile Justice. The initial findings were that there was no inappropriate conduct by the staff member and program administrators were advised that the employee was free to return to work. Following the investigation, we were informed of previous inappropriate behavior by that same staff member with a former student, an adult at the time and no longer under the custody of the program or DJJ.
Ulleg later explained that the employee returned to work today. "DJJ notified us late this afternoon that we should not have been told that she could return," Ulleg wrote in an email. "The new information that came to us late this afternoon involved a former student (an adult), not the same student involved in the recent allegation."
So the real question here: Is this the pregnancy Weekes referenced in his letter? And -- most important -- how did the state miss the past allegation as part of its initial look at the employee?
Stay tuned for updates.
Update: The Sun-Sentinel reports the two AMIkids staffers under investigation.
Update #2: This morning the Miami Herald follows up on the story with two new pieces of information: that the initial complaints that set off the investigation came on June 17, when an anonymous call was made to the Fort Lauderdale center's director, Luis Ceruti, about a staffer's inappropriate relationship with a student.
Also, the Herald reports that Ceruti was told about the inappropriate cell phone snap by a staffer, but the executive director didn't report the incident until "more than four hours later."
Update #3: The Fort Lauderdale PD later found no evidence to support the allegations and did not open an investigation.
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