Tampa transition program called fraudulent - WFLA News Channel 8

Tampa transition program called fraudulent

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Travis Seaman, mugshot Travis Seaman, mugshot
Mike Graves, Lake County Public Defender Mike Graves, Lake County Public Defender
Ruben Alvarez, President/CEO, Touched by the Hand Ruben Alvarez, President/CEO, Touched by the Hand
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

A public defender says a Tampa based organization that claimed to offer counseling for the homeless, sex offenders and addicts pulled the wool over his office.

Mike Graves is the Public Defender for the 5th judicial circuit, which consists of Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties.  Last week, Graves sent a memo to all of his attorneys instructing them that Touched by the Hand Outreach Inc. (TBTHOI) is not a viable option for any of their cases.

"Never before have I had a case in which it was just basically all fraudulent with the exception of having a place to live... that all services were untrue," Graves said.

TBTHOI is a two building 8 apartment complex on Tampa's North 50th Street.

Its C-E-O and president is Ruben Alvarez, a convicted sex offender, with a lengthy criminal record.

In his literature, Alvarez claimed his organization offered AA/NA meetings, and a social skills department that provided education on computer skills.

Former Chief Operating Officer Lena Volmer contends those services did not exist.

"There's no computer access for the clients," Volmer said.

The organization's literature also states TBTHOI also worked with job placement agencies to provide employment.

"There are none, there's nothing within that facility that prepares these people for anything," Volmer stated.

Volmer says she donated items to TBTHOI through the years, state records show she became C.O.O. in March. Alvarez fired her a month later.

Last November, the Public Defender office recommended to a judge that instead of prison, 24 year old Travis Seaman, a convicted sex offender, who violated his probation, be sent to TBTOI for counseling.

Graves, who took office just this year, says Alvarez talked a good game and convinced a social worker and attorney in the office that TBTHOI offered what they needed.

"A secure living environment, that was something we thought would be important to the judge, drug abuse counseling, sex abuse counseling," Graves said.

A judge sent Seaman to TBTHOI to complete a 12 to 24 month transition program.

"It stated that it was a 9, 12 or 24 month program and then I got sentence to it and they told me that I had to graduate it, and I did graduate, but it was only like after four months that I graduated," Seaman said.

Graves contends the options for sex offenders are few. Other programs that his office contacted for placement recommended TBTHOI. He says Alvarez offered what the court was looking for.

"They did indicate that there would be some vocational training or at a minimum, assistance in finding work and that the program or the entity...would be available for anywhere between a 12 and 24 month period," Graves said.

"After a couple of days of being there I called my parents and the one guy who was helping me out and told them this place was nothing but a scam, but I had no other place to go," Seaman said.

Graves' office remained unaware of TBTHOI's shortcomings until 8 On Your Side started asking questions about why it recommended placing Seaman there.

"When I found these matters out, thanks to the media, I have emailed and instructed every attorney in our 5 county offices, that they are not to consider whatsoever this particular entity," Graves said.

Ruben Alvarez has not responded to a request for an interview. The founder and president of TBTHOI is now sitting in jail. He violated his probation when a urine sample tested positive for cocaine. A judge sentenced Alvarez to 5 years in state prison.

 

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