By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
"I really have no desire to go over things that occurred with the previous administration," Dickinson says during a recent interview. "It's old news. We have untold levels of checks and balances now. We have much better safeguards in place."
Chang wholeheartedly disagrees: "The donating public has a right to know what goes on inside Camillus House."
Following Dale Simpson's departure from Camillus, the board hired Ahr on April 28, 2004, to fix the damage and negative publicity generated by the former executive director's arrest. Ahr held the title of interim executive director for six months until he was selected by the board to be Camillus's new president a position that had been vacated by the departure of Brother Savio Charron, the clergyman to whom Simpson reported.
Ahr, who earns $180,000 a year, was already familiar with the charity when he joined Camillus. He ran Altenhar Group, a management consulting firm with clients in St. Louis and Miami. Ahr is also a former director of Missouri's Department of Health and the author of two books on mental healthcare. In late 2002 Altenhar won a bid to assist Camillus devise a long-term strategic plan for providing care to the poor and homeless. "We were asked to determine the capacity for Camillus's new facility," Ahr recalls during a recent telephone interview. "The other part was to figure out how to develop vocational programs to help our clients find jobs." Ahr's firm received $55,000 for its services. He met periodically with Simpson and reported to the board's government relations committee headed by former Miami Beach City Manager Roger Carlton.
Ahr spent his first 90 days as interim executive director reorganizing the facilities and maintenance department, where most of the employees who worked on Simpson's properties were assigned.
"The warehouse was bursting at the seams when I got here," Ahr says. "There were pieces of furniture we had no use for." Ahr notes Camillus has an arrangement with City Furniture to receive free furniture for the charity's apartment complexes and halfway houses. "City Furniture has been very, very generous to us," Ahr says. City Furniture president Keith Koenig sits on the Camillus board. Ahr decided Camillus would collect furniture only on an as-needed basis and limit most pick-ups to food. Ahr also determined he would need fewer drivers on the road collecting goods. As a result, Camillus eliminated six positions in the warehouse and transportation departments. That decision prompted Ahr to lay off Mena and Chang in the summer. The former employees say Ahr used the reorganization as an excuse to get rid of them. Chang and Mena claim Ahr had developed a personal relationship with Simpson during the time Ahr was working as the charity's consultant. During a staff meeting while they were still employed by Camillus, Chang and Mena claim Ahr made the following statement: "I have nothing bad to say about Dale Simpson. He was very good to me when I was here."
Ahr confirmed he made the comment, but he did not intend his words to be interpreted that he was a friend of Simpson's. Ahr says most of his interaction was with Carlton's committee, not Simpson. "There was a fair amount of grumbling regarding Dale when I started as interim director," Ahr explains. "I just wanted people to know I didn't have a beef with him. I didn't want to get caught up with who liked and who didn't like Dale."
Among the individuals who did not like Simpson were Chang, Mena, and their former supervisor, Gabriel Roqueta, facilities and properties administrator. Roqueta, who reported directly to Simpson, supervised all employees in the maintenance and transportation departments. He is also a key witness in the case against the former executive director. According to Chang and Mena, Ahr methodically stripped away all of Roqueta's responsibilities during the last thirteen months they were employed with Camillus. Ahr says Roqueta had "a lot on his plate" and decided to reassign him to a new position in which he is the charity's point man for contractors. "Gabe probably had the hardest job at Camillus," Ahr says. "He had a lot of responsibilities under his wing. His real strength is out in the community talking to vendors. With the new building I need someone who can deal with that."
Roqueta would comment for this article only with Ahr's permission. Ahr denied New Times's request to interview Roqueta citing Camillus's policy that prohibits employees other than himself and marketing director Sam Gil from speaking to the media.
Upon dismissing the claims he targeted whistleblowers, Ahr addressed the sale of the donated jewelry to Robin's in the Grove, a jeweler in Coconut Grove, which Ahr admits was not handled properly.
Sometime in 2002 one of Camillus's regular donors approached Stephanie Giering and Kevin Brewton in the parking lot of the charity's executive building on NW Fifth Street, Ahr relates. He declined to name the woman, citing the charity's privacy rules. New Times has identified her as Sofia Zuleta, who owns Don Z Cash & Pawn Shop in Coral Gables. Zuleta says she handed Giering several pieces of jewelry as a donation. After that, Zuleta says, she does not know what Camillus did with the jewelry. "Dale told them to document it and lock it up," Ahr says.