LARGO, Fla. -- Congresswoman Kathy Castor is calling on the Department of Health and Human Services to demand the Office of the Inspector General re-open its investigation into Pinellas County Head Start. This after 10 News Investigators broke the story that the executive director held a 3-day training seminar at a four star resort and spa in Safety Harbor.
In a letter to the inspector general, Castor stated the investigation should be re-opened because "recent press reports have questioned the use of funds for training at a local resort and spa."
Castor represents some of the poorest areas of St. Petersburg that are served by Pinellas Head Start and wants the investigation so they can "increase enrollment and get more children off waitlists and into the classroom."
But she's not the only elected official that upset with the organization. Pinellas Commissioner Neil Brickfield can't understand why the agency would hold a conference at such a fancy facility.
"Safety Harbor Spa is certainly a Class A facility," he said. "I'm surprised to see after they had such a bad audit last year that they were doing this again. Makes me wonder what's in the audit this year."
Brickfield is talking about a scathing audit that cited the agency for improper charges of $31,000 for seven trips last year. It noted two of the trips to Las Vegas cost $13,569, and a management conference with nine staff members spent $616 for a dinner.
Executive Director M. Juanita Heinzen, who makes $136,036 a year, was arrested last year for lying to police. She sees nothing wrong with the conference. Although she first seemed confused about our questions about the 3-day conference at the plush spa, she admitted it cost between $5,000 and $6,000 this year and the same amount last year.
"We did all the usual things we do as far as taking a look back at how we did over the past year and moving forward," said Heinzen.