If you're aiming to win multimillion-dollar contracts to run Florida's juvenile prisons, it helps to have friends in high places. Youth Services International, the for-profit company that runs Thompson Academy in Pembroke Pines along with seven other juvie lockups in the state, has learned this lesson well. During the five-year period from 2006 to 2011, people associated with the company donated at least $88,000 to Florida politicians, state and federal records show.
Two powerhouse Republican leaders were the primary recipients of the dough: Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, the only Floridian with a seat on the influential House Ways and Means Committee.
Buchanan, who lives in the Sarasota-Manatee County area where Youth Services International is based, cleaned up best, with $49,200 in donations. Haridopolos, who has pushed hard to privatize prisons in southern Florida, received $14,400. Next in line was U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams, a first-term Republican congresswoman from Central Florida who received $9,600 from the prison operator.
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The vast majority of the contributions came from Youth Services CEO James Slattery; his wife, Diane; and other family members, while a small portion came from unrelated company employees.
Youth Services currently has roughly $82 million in taxpayer-funded prison contracts in Florida, including $29 million to run the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Correctional Center -- a new five-year contract the company just won in March.
The money continues to flow to Youth Services despite allegations that male teenagers at Thompson Academy have been sexually and physically abused by company employees. (Read New Times' investigation of those allegations here). A federal class-action lawsuit filed against Thompson Academy in 2010 was settled last year. Currently, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is investigating allegations that Thompson's former top administrator brought residents home with him and allowed them to shower at his house.