FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — A sexual misconduct investigation has been launched at a Fort Lauderdale program for juvenile offenders after one female worker and an intern were accused of having inappropriate relationships with members of the program.
According to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald, the Department of Juvenile Justice revealed the AMIkids of Greater Fort Lauderdale executive director, Luis Ceruti, initially suspended the staffer following an anonymous phone call June 17. She has since been fired.
During that phone call, the tipster said the staffer was involved in a relationship with one of the program’s male youth.
Sherri Ulleg, spokeswoman for AMIKids of Ft. Lauderdale, told the paper the staffer was fired on Monday, July 1, after they independently learned of “previous inappropriate behavior” with a former student who was an adult at the time, but is no longer in the program.
A separate investigation is looking into the actions of an the intern who allegedly exchanged inappropriate text messages and photos with another young man.
A staffer reported seeing a photo on the young man’s phone.
Ulleg reports the intern has been banned from the facility while the investigation is underway.
“Our first priority is the safety of our kids, so we take any allegations that would jeopardize that safety very seriously,” Ulleg told the paper. “As soon as we were notified about these allegations, they were called into the department.”
This isn’t the only allegation of sexual misconduct within AMIkids. The Broward Public Defender’s office brought forward a similar allegation last June. In a letter to the Justice Department, it alleges a young man with the AMIkids program fathered a child by a female staffer while she worked at the organization’s Miami facility.
The letter also referred to explicit, nude photographs of a female worker saved on a cell phone of a young man in the program and that administrators knew of the alleged behavior.
Others at the facility reportedly nicknamed the employee “cradle robber.”
Staff members were not named in the letter and that leaves the DJJ trying to determine whether the allegations involve the same employees who are already being investigated.
If the allegations are true, “it’s inappropriate, it’s unethical and it’s borderline criminal,” said chief assistant public defender Gordon H. Weekes, Jr., who wrote the letter.
“To have someone that’s placed in a position of trust taking advantage of a vulnerable child undermines other children’s ability to progress, undermines the program, undermines the success of those children that are interacting with that individual,” Weekes said.
According to Weekes, the public defender’s office will ask courts for a moratorium on placing children in AMIkids along with an independent investigation.
AMIkids operates more than 50 juvenile justice and alternative education programs in nine states. It is a nonprofit organization. AMIkids has 22 sites in Florida, including in Miami, North Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Day treatment programs, such as AMIKids of Greater Fort Lauderdale, serve youth between the ages of 14 and 18 that have been found guilty of misdemeanors or lesser felonies.
CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed to this report.