Feds investigating Tampa's Touched by the Hand Outreach - WFLA News Channel 8

Feds investigating Tampa's Touched by the Hand Outreach

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24 year old former TBTHO client Craig Overton 24 year old former TBTHO client Craig Overton
While Overton was in jail, TBTHO received his Social Security benefits While Overton was in jail, TBTHO received his Social Security benefits
Overton says he didn't see a dime of a$10700 Social Security check Overton says he didn't see a dime of a$10700 Social Security check
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

Social Security agents are now investigating a non-profit halfway house in Tampa which is at the center of an 8 On Your Side investigation.

Touched by the Hand Outreach, Inc. located on Tampa's north 50th street, is run by convicted sex offender Ruben Alvarez. The organization claims it shelters the homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill as well as sex offenders. Its literature says it provides counseling and therapeutic programs.

6/25/2013 Related Story: Tampa non-profit president accused of inappropriate touching

Clients entering Touched by the Hand Outreach are required to sign a contract making TBTHO the client's Social Security representative payee.

Social Security Administration spokesperson Patti Patterson said in an email, in order to become a payee, an organization must contact the local Social Security office to file an application. Patterson would not comment on whether TBTHO had followed Social Security Administration procedures.

6/24/2013 Related Story: Tampa transition program called fraudulent

Former Chief Operating Officer Lena Volmer sounded the alarm to the feds. She told them TBTHO took clients' Social Security benefits that it was not entitled to.

Volmer worked for the organization for a month. President and founder Alvarez fired her.

24 year old Craig Overton is a former client of TBTHO. Overton, a convicted sex offender says he suffers from several forms of mental illness. He receives several hundred dollars a month in Social Security benefits. Overton checked into TBTHO last September.

In November, Social Security sent him a check for $10,753 dollars. He claims he didn't see a dime of it.

"It was a back pay Social Security check. I didn't find out until just late last month," Overton said.

A receipt and client file obtained by 8 On Your Side show TBTHO received the Overton's check and applied it toward his program fees, he says, without his knowledge.

Overton was arrested in December for failing to report his address to Florida's sex offender registry.

Records show while Overton was in jail, his Social Security money continued flowing into TBTHO.

Volmer says that is not supposed to happen.

"When you're incarcerated, normally the Social Security Administration has to be notified, at which time they, their Social Security is stopped," she said.

Social Security Administration spokesperson Patti Patterson refused comment on the Overton case, but responded by email,"the Social Security and SSI programs prohibit payments to most prisoners. We suspend Social Security benefits to a beneficiary confined in a jail, prison or other penal institution for over 30 continuous days."

Overton was locked up from December 11th 2012 to May 7 2013.

"The whole time he was not there the money was being deposited into the company account," Volmer said.

TBTHO records show it continued receiving Overton's social security benefits right through April 2013.

An 8 On Your Side investigation revealed mental health facilities and the courts sent clients to TBTHO for counseling and therapy.

Volmer as well as former clients say, TBTHO offered little.

"There's nothing within that facility that prepares these people for anything," Volmer said.

Our investigation also revealed allegations that a former client claims he was forced to have sex with Alvarez.

Social Security Administration agents left TBTHO offices in late June with bank records and other financial statements.

Alvarez has not responded to our request for an interview. Nor is he around to answer any questions the feds might have.

A urine test in May discovered cocaine in his system, a violation of his probation.

A judge sentenced him Alvarez to five years in state prison.

 

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