Sheriff’s office investigates director of Pinellas drug rehab pr - WFLA News Channel 8

Sheriff’s office investigates director of Pinellas drug rehab program

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Ray Harris (left) with his former fiancee, Teresa Croyle (right) Ray Harris (left) with his former fiancee, Teresa Croyle (right)
Teresa Croyle, former Simply hope administrator Teresa Croyle, former Simply hope administrator
Ray Harris Ray Harris
PINELLAS COUNTY, FL -

It is called Simply Hope.  It is a program in Pinellas Park that helps drug addicts get clean and stay out of jail. 

For many abusers, Simply Hope is their last hope, or stop before prison.

It offers addicts a place to stay and some much needed structure in their lives.

Now that the Obama administration proposes lighter sentences for lower level drug crimes, the role of such jail diversion programs may become even more prominent.

For the past several years 6th Judicial Circuit Judge Dee Anna Farnell has referred many defendants to Simply Hope.

At a 2008 Simply Hope fundraiser she praised director Ray Harris, who she sent to prison on at least two occasions.

"You know he's such Rays fan and now we know what they have in common, worst to first," Farnell told the crowd. 

But referrals to Simply Hope by the drug court have stopped.

An 8 On Your Side investigation has confirmed the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is investigating a criminal complaint against the director of Simply Hope, Ray Harris. 

For now Harris is not welcome in drug court.  Farnell will not speak to 8 On Your Side about Harris, Simply Hope or the ongoing investigation. 

But public defender Bob Dillinger is talking.  Dillinger confirms he has pulled out all of the female clients that his office is paying Simply Hope to house. 

"We have an allegation of some misconduct," Dillinger said.

8 On Your Side has confirmed the existence of a cell phone recording, capturing Harris acting inappropriately with a female client. 

"An administrator of Simply Hope should not be kissing a client of Simply Hope," Dillinger said.  "I have no choice, once I hear an allegation of that nature, I have to move clients, female clients."

Dillinger says allegations of inappropriate behavior and inappropriate text messaging forced him to take action.

"I found no fewer than 7 prior clients, all females, that he was in a texting, sexting relationship with," former Simply Hope administrator Teresa Croyle said.  Croyle was also Harris' former fiancée. 

Croyle worked at Simply Hope for more than 4 years.  She left in May. 

She claims that in January she discovered inappropriate text messages with current and former female clients on Harris' phone.  These included messages to and from the Simply Hope client at the center of the sheriff's investigation.

"He made reference to her butt, he made reference to want[ing] to rub her down with oil," Croyle said. 

Following her discovery, Croyle says Harris sent her a letter where he admits to sending texts, but that he "Never ever had any intentions to fulfill or attempt to accomplish anything" that he wrote.

He called the texts a tool "to gather info," or as he labeled it in his letter, "covert operating tactics."

"Ray stated that he was doing covert operations for the drug court and that he needed to lead these women on, in order to get information for the drug court to build cases against them or their associates that were still involved in drug activity, and that this was part of his job that he never wanted me to know about," Croyle said.

A spokesperson for the 6th Judicial Circuit said the idea of a drug court team covert operation is ridiculous.

Harris' attorney Denis DeVlaming says his investigation has just begun.  He said he doesn't see anything rising to criminal conduct but that he has advised Harris to stay away from Simply Hope and all male and female clients until the investigation concludes.

 

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