Director of Treasure Coast child abuse prevention agency on the way out after cover-up allegations

Posted at 6:00 PM, Apr 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-06 19:35:06-04

The executive director of a Treasure Coast child abuse prevention agency is on her way out after the Department of Children and Families found she attempted to conceal employee misconduct.

Theresa Garbarino-May has been with CASTLE for 31 years. But this week, CASTLE's governing board voted not to renew her executive director contract when it expires September 30th. 

"She’s done a lot of good for CASTLE over the years and I don’t know where that stopped and where the lines got blurred," said former CASTLE contracted human resources manager Lori Pereria in a phone interview. 

According to a DCF Office of Inspector General report, their investigation began in December 2016. Two months earlier, Pereria, former Operations Director Anastasia Legakes and Programs Director Jovil Wharton, according to the report, said they told Garbarino-May that former Program Supervisor Edgar Marrero submitted fraudulent travel vouchers totaling under $1,000. He also allegedly falsified case notes of visits with CASTLE clients during 2016. 

Pereria told Contact 5 over the phone, "she (Garbarino-May) wasn’t too keen on reporting them (the allegations) to the Office of Inspector General. It really didn’t set very well with me."

By law, DCF says any contracted agencies have to report employee misconduct or fraud within two days of discovery. 

Pereria told the Inspector General, Garbarino-May told her and the others, "it could severely damage CASTLE," if reported outside of CASTLE's senior leadership team. 

"She said it would affect funding," said Pereria. 

Eventually, Pereria submitted a report to the Inspector General regarding Marrera, but Pereria claims Garbarino-May "instructed her to only report the travel voucher fraud, explaining that she did not want CASTLE clients learning about the case note falsification as it could lead to CASTLE's closure."

"I took notes every time I met with Theresa so I did have notes that I would refer back on to when talking to the Inspector General," said Pereria. 

In February 2017, two other managers tried to report another possible falsification of records, telling Garbarino-May a contracted behavioral therapist submitted a payment roster containing the names of CASTLE clients that she did not visit or treat. In this case, according to DCF's Inspector General report,  Garbarino-May told the manager she wanted the allegations "to remain within their triangle."

CASTLE's governing board in March 2017 launched an internal investigation and placed Garbarino-May on administrative leave. A Fort Pierce law firm conducted the investigation and found no evidence of wrongdoing. Garbarino-May returned in May 2017. According to their February 2018 report, however, DCF did find Garbarino-May attempted to conceal employee misconduct.

The Children Service's Council of Martin County, which uses CASTLE for its Safe Families Program, told Contact 5 they are not happy with CASTLE's lack of communication through this whole ordeal. They said they were unaware Garbarino-May had been on administrative leave in 2017. They'll decide whether to keep contracting with them at a meeting at the end of the month. They have already allowed other contractors in the area to bid for the contract if they choose not to renew their partnership with CASTLE.

The Children Service's Council of St. Lucie County will make a similar decision on April 12th on whether they'll keep CASTLE.

CASTLE's governing board Vice President shared this statement:   

"As a private nonprofit, CASTLE personnel matters remain largely internal. We have confirmed that our Governing Board voted to not renew the contract of our longtime executive director and appointed Chris Robertson, our annual fund manager, as interim acting executive director. For nearly 40 years, CASTLE has achieved lifesaving and transformative results intervening on behalf of abused children and teaching thousands of vulnerable families across Okeechobee and the Treasure Coast parenting techniques proven to break the cycle of abuse and neglect. Thankfully, many partners have offered us encouragement during this transition, which we deeply appreciate. The public knows our commitment to stopping the tragic heartbreak of child abuse at its source and will—we sincerely believe—continue to remain supportive of our efforts."