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15747: (Hermantin)Palm Beach Post-Agencies probe Haitian council (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Agencies probe Haitian council

By Gariot Louima, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 31, 2003

DELRAY BEACH -- Two Palm Beach County agencies are investigating a nonprofit
organization that receives tax dollars to serve the Haitian community
following allegations it charges clients for services that should be free.

The Children Services Council and the Department of Community Services are
looking into complaints that the Haitian American Community Council
routinely charged clients seeking assistance with a wide range of
immigration issues, from completing and translating forms to retrieving
documentation from Haiti.

The fees, according to police records and interviews, ranged from as little
as $60 in some instances to more than $600 in one.

But in applications for county grants, the center's executive director,
Daniella Henry, wrote that the council-operated service centers in Delray
Beach and Lake Worth help Haitian immigrants at no cost.

"There definitely should be no charge because county funds are for people
who wouldn't be able to afford the services otherwise," said Sharon Nangle,
program monitor at the Department of Community Services, which gave the
Haitian council a $153,491 grant this budget year.

The allegations come amid turmoil within the organization that has led to
the firing of the deputy director, a case worker and a program director. The
program director, Gethro Louis-Jean, co-owns a house in Lantana with Henry,
county records show.

Louis-Jean also operates a for-profit service center called Legacy Service
Center from the house that serves Haitian clients, county and state records

Those developments also have drawn the interest of county officials.

Marlene Passell, the public information director of the Children Services
Council, said the council will investigate whether Louis-Jean and Henry
violated a nepotism rule. The rule, which covers agencies that receive money
from the Children Services Council, says supervisors cannot hire family
members or individuals who share a same address.

Records at the Children Services Council of Palm Beach County -- which gave
the Haitian center a $145,705 grant this fiscal year -- show that Louis-Jean
was fired a week ago when others complained to Henry about his work. His
annual salary was $36,500.

The 2000 Census showed that 31,000 Haitians live in Palm Beach County and
3,700 in the Treasure Coast, although those estimates are often questioned
as being too low. Since Henry, 44, founded the Haitian American Community
Council in 1992, it is credited with helping thousands of Haitians make the
transition to life in America. As a result, she has emerged as the most
recognizable face among Haitian advocates in the county.

'I don't see the clients'

In an interview Friday, Henry said she never deals with clients. Anyone who
claims to have paid her for services is not telling the truth, she said.

"I don't see the clients," Henry said. "I stay in the back. I'm always in
meetings and workshops and seminars."

Willie Jones, an attorney for the council and a board member, added, "The
executive director has oversight responsibilities."

Allegations have circulated that Henry has for years asked clients to pay
for services -- beyond application fees, some Haitian activists and clients
say. They noted that nothing had ever been documented -- until recently.

On April 16, Isaac Louis got into an argument with a staff member at the
center on Congress Avenue and Lake Ida Road in Delray Beach, demanding he
receive his birth certificate or the $60 he had paid for it.

Louis threatened the staff member and was told to leave, according to a
police report.

"They called me maybe a week after that and gave me my birth certificate,"
said Louis, 27, of West Palm Beach. "They always charge people," he added

Earlier this month, Delray Beach police again were called to the center,
where a man, claiming he had been charged $600 to retrieve his birth
certificate from Haiti, refused to leave until Henry returned his money.

Gaston Cosmeus of Boynton Beach told police Henry failed to get the document
for him and he got into a shouting match with a receptionist, who called the

When the police arrived, Henry met Cosmeus outside the center and returned
his money, according to the police report.

When asked about Cosmeus' claim, Jones said he and Henry would not comment
until they saw the police report.

After a copy of the report was faxed to Jones' office, Henry said she works
with the National Archives in Haiti to assist immigrants with document
retrieval. The Haitian government charges administrative fees, which the
clients pay, Henry said. The center does not keep any of that money, she

Nangle, of the community services department, said she knew Henry partnered
with other agencies, but did not know the council charged fees for those
additional services. The county is looking into whether that arrangement
violates the council's contract, she said.

Passell, of the CSC, said the council is also concerned about the stability
of the program in light of the firing of three employees: Deputy Director
Karlie Richardson, caseworker Marie-Yves Snezik and Louis-Jean.

Ex-employee blamed

Henry said rumors that she asks clients to pay for some services are being
fueled by a disgruntled Richardson. Henry and Jones said Richardson was
fired last week from her $48,000-a-year job for insubordination and for
becoming so boisterous in outbursts that Henry feared for her safety.

Henry said she didn't report the incidents to police because she didn't want
to publicize them.

Reached by telephone Friday, Richardson said she believes she was fired
because she complained that Snezik had been improperly terminated from her
$29,000 job.

"If I refuse to compromise my professional ethics, then, yes, I was
insubordinate," Richardson said. "If things are being done improperly and I
speak out because I don't want to be involved in anything unethical and she
says it's insubordination, then she can say that."


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