10 News Investigator Noah Pransky (right) talks with Knowledge Quest CEO Cesar Ruiz
TAMPA, Fla. -- Following a 10 News Investigation into wasteful spending by a Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance vendor, the owner of the private company sent a letter to workforce directors defending his practices and errors on its application.
Cesar Ruiz, CEO of Knowledge Quest, a private job-training firm, repeatedly declined interviews during 10 News' four-month investigation. And after attending Thursday's Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance (TBWA) directors' meeting, he said he was too busy for questions again.
But with the meeting ending 15 minutes early, 10 News asked the tough questions anyway about where tax dollars were going (see video).
Read: Public records obtained during Knowledge Quest investigation
In his letter, Ruiz claimed his company only cashed $1,995 of the roughly $30,000 in federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) checks it received for a much-criticized April training. Ruiz said he chose not to accept the rest of the WIA vouchers when he heard not all of the students trained received jobs, yet he disputed claims from upset students that Knowledge Quest promised jobs to get students into the training.
"The job-training pilot program was not designed as and was never promised to the students as a 'guaranteed' job," Ruiz wrote in his letter.
Each displaced or under-employed worker gets a specific allotment of funds under the WIA program, and a number of 10 News viewers complained that a worthless Knowledge Quest training left them with no funds left in their WIA accounts. Even if Knowledge Quest did not cash the checks, it did the students in need of job training no good since they wouldn't have known the funds were still available to them.
Ruiz said Thursday that it wasn't his job to tell the students about their WIA balances.
Ruiz also defended 10 News' findings that Knowledge Quest Education (KQE) falsely claimed it had achieved scholastic accreditation.
"KQE colleges are Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accredited schools," the letter continued, referring to schools such as Florida Keys Community College and Pensacola St. College, where Knowledge Quest has taught classes.
"(H)owever, our programs are non-credit, professional development and certification programs. We believed that our programs where (sic) approved through these relationships; however received notification from the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) that we were not accredited and have begun the approval process towards obtaining accreditation from the Commission of Independent Education."
Most TBWA directors were familiar with the 10 News investigation, yet none brought it up for public discussion in their first opportunity since the story aired.
Alliance CEO Ed Peachey refused to comment on-camera, telling 10 News to put all questions for him in writing.
Previously, 10 News filed public records requests with all of Tampa Bay's regional workforce boards to find out how many contracts Knowledge Quest received through Employed Worker Training (EWT) contracts.
While several regional workforce boards provided the records at no cost, the Hillsborough (TBWA) and Pinellas boards - both directed by Peachey - gave $2,000 and $1,500 quotes, respectively, for staff to provide the records.
10 News has since requested alternative documents that might indicate how many tax dollars Knowledge Quest has obtained through the workforce boards, but Peachey has not provided them.
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