Charity and Checkpoint

Will the mission's miseries tarnish the perception of Camillus House?

Camillus's board and the brothers quickly distanced themselves from Simpson — a man the brothers once protected from scrutiny until state investigators came knocking on the charity's door. At the time, Camillus chairman and Carnival Cruise Lines president Bob Dickinson called Simpson's conduct an isolated event. "It is the sincere hope of Camillus House that today's arrest of Dale Simpson brings to a close an unfortunate chapter in this exceptional organization's history," Dickinson pontificated in a prepared statement following Simpson's ride to the booking station. Dickinson promised the public that Camillus was now in "good hands" under the leadership of the charity's new president, Paul Ahr, a psychologist who previously worked as a consultant for Camillus.

However, several incidents that occurred under Simpson's reign indicate the former executive director was not the only charity employee involved in some questionable, and possibly illegal, activities using Camillus resources. For instance, Simpson allegedly allowed Camillus housing services director Stephanie Giering and former warehouse supervisor Kevin Brewton to sell several pieces of jewelry worth $95,000 — donated to the charity by a local pawn broker — at half their true value. According to sources familiar with the sale, Giering and Brewton also kept some of the trinkets for themselves.

According to a federal lawsuit filed this past March 4 against Camillus by its former development director, Tyrone Hart, Simpson and Camillus government relations director Peter England were reimbursing employees for campaign contributions to City of Miami political candidates in 2003 — a violation of state campaign finance laws, which is considered a first-degree felony. Hart also alleged Simpson concealed a $52,000 payment to a volunteer assisting England with the charity's fundraising in 2004.

Camillus estimates it costs $1.89 to feed a meal to one 
homeless person; in 2004 the charity provided 360,000 
free meals
Jonathan Postal
Camillus estimates it costs $1.89 to feed a meal to one homeless person; in 2004 the charity provided 360,000 free meals
Inside the Camillus House shelter, Miami's destitute find 
refuge from the streets
Jonathan Postal
Inside the Camillus House shelter, Miami's destitute find refuge from the streets

It seems the Little Brothers may also have taken advantage of Camillus. In 2001 the brothers, who have taken public vows of poverty, used $394,000 in Camillus funds, money that could have fed Rock Trailer and Deborah Ford 104,232 meals, to add four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a family room to their Morningside residence.

Lazaro Chang and Eduardo Mena, two former Camillus employees who were laid off this past June, say Ahr and Dickinson do not want the public to know about the additional improprieties that occurred under Simpson's watch. During an interview at New Times's offices following their dismissal, both men, who are witnesses in the state's case against Simpson, were upset by their terminations. "I really enjoyed working there," Mena said. "I felt like I was truly helping people."

Mena, a pudgy 55-year-old Cuban American with blue eyes and silvery hair cut military style, was hired by Camillus in October 1998. He earned $29,000 a year as the charity's transportation supervisor. "I was responsible for picking up donations that came in through the transportation department," Mena said. "I also managed the routes, took inventory of items received, and made arrangements to pick up goods with the donors."

According to state prosecutors, Mena spent 13.5 hours on Camillus's dime doing chores for Simpson. "I never questioned anything Dale did because for sure I would lose my job," Mena said. "That is how he ran things."

Chang, a 64-year-old from Camagüey, Cuba, joined Camillus in 2000. Chang, who was paid an annual salary of $18,000, began as a driver, but a back injury in 2003 relegated him to the warehouse, answering phone calls for donation pick-ups. When he was a driver, Chang recalls, he would pick up luxurious furniture from homes in Aventura, North Miami Beach, and other upscale communities. "Camillus would donate the stuff to churches, homeless people, and the clients in the recovery programs," Chang said. "When I would tell people Camillus does not resell its donations, they would give you more things."

According to Simpson's arrest warrant, Chang received orders March 28, 2002, to pick up furniture from City Furniture and deliver it to Simpson's vacation house in Stuart. Prosecutors allege Simpson defrauded Camillus of $358.65 in labor that afternoon. "I worked ten hours on the day I picked up his furniture," Chang said. "There were definitely a series of abnormalities and anomalies that existed when I worked there."

Simpson's attorney is also playing the cover-up card as part of his client's defense. A towering transplanted New Yorker with a hard jaw and steady hazel eyes, criminal defense lawyer Richard Marx counters that his client has been wrongly accused by disgruntled employees and some members of Camillus's board of directors who didn't agree with Simpson's difficult management style. "Dale was a heavy-handed taskmaster who got results," Marx says during a recent interview at his Flagler Street office. "But he had no motive to do anything dishonest."

Marx also questioned why Camillus has retained criminal defense lawyer John Thorton to represent every employee who is on the witness list. "Why is Camillus paying for him?" Marx asked rhetorically. "What is Camillus worried about? My client is the one standing trial."

Ahr and Dickinson claim Camillus House is in great shape these days. The charity is gearing up for its biggest fundraiser of the year, the Camillus House Gala, which is held in conjunction with the United Way's Mayor's Ball in November. Last year Camillus and the United Way raised more than $1.5 million. The charity also seeks more private donations to help pay for Camillus's long-awaited new home near Cedars Medical Center. More revelations of corruption within the organization would certainly hamper efforts to raise money.

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