Miami-Dade Job-Placement Centers Faked and Inflated Stats, Audit Reveals

CareerSource is Florida's job-placement service for the unemployed. The South Florida branch, as of 2015, was sucking up more than $70 million in state and federal funds every year to allegedly put locals to work. But the service can't keep itself out of trouble. In 2015, New Times detailed how current CareerSource South Florida boss Rick Beasley was censured by the federal government for what investigators said was a pattern of bullying, harassing, and discriminating against at least eight female employees.

But that's not the only issue plaguing South Florida's major unemployment agency. In a scathing 32-page audit released to New Times yesterday, the Miami-Dade County Office of the Inspector General (OIG) revealed subcontractors paid by CareerSource were, in some cases, shuffling applicants around to inflate their job-placement numbers. In other instances, they reported job placements that auditors could not verify.

After being confronted with auditors' findings, one local contractor repaid CareerSource more than $150,000 in taxpayer funds. The OIG recommends a second contractor be charged $12,500 in penalties.

In some cases, auditors found that job-placement groups reported people had been assigned to "full-time" jobs that in fact lasted only months or weeks. In other instances, auditors couldn't even confirm employees had started jobs where they'd allegedly been placed.

Other CareerSource branches around the state have also faced accusations of corruption and mismanagement: In a series of articles earlier this year, the Tampa Bay Times reported that CareerSource Tampa Bay and CareerSource Pinellas County had handed out more than $6 million in Visa and gas-station gift cards using taxpayer funds and, in a scandal remarkably similar to what auditors say was happening in Miami-Dade, took credit for thousands of job-placements they had nothing to do with and approved bonuses for employees who did not meet job-performance thresholds.

Miami-Dade's auditors said they began their investigation after county Commissioner Xavier Suarez noted CareerSource South Florida's (CSSF) job-placement numbers seemed ludicrously high. In 2016 and 2017, for example, CareerSource reported placing 60,283 people — a number that, if true, would have nearly eradicated unemployment in Miami-Dade.

Considering many people still don't have jobs, Suarez told New Times yesterday he was skeptical of the reporting. "I first said that, with these exaggerated numbers, it makes it sound like they wiped out unemployment in one year," Suarez said.

After looking at CareerSource's books, auditors agreed. Of the 60,000 people for whom CareerSource says it found jobs in the 2016-17 reporting year, only 14,149 were "directly" placed into jobs, the auditors said. The other 46,134 were listed as people who'd "obtained employment" after doing something as simple as attending a CareerSource resumé-writing or interview-training class. And many of the 14,000 who were "directly placed" didn't last at their jobs.

"The number of job placements reported by CSSF does not clearly convey the number of individuals placed in sustaining employment," auditors wrote.

In one case, CareerSource contractors said they'd helped 23 people secure work at Hialeah's Caballero Rivero Funeral Homes — but it turned out 22 of the 23 employees left after two weeks and earned only $600 each. The contractor who placed the employees at the job site still earned $11,300 in taxpayer funds for 23 full-time job placements.

In a different case, 53 South Florida residents were placed at two event-staffing companies that catered gatherings for Art Basel, the Miami Open, and other high-profile festivals. But the employees actually worked only one day to two weeks before losing their jobs.

"Clearly, these placements and this type of work is not 'sustained employment,'" auditors wrote.

The agency's South Florida branch operates 15 local job-placement centers from Key West to the Dade-Broward county line. One subcontractor, Arbor E&T, runs four centers, in Hialeah, Carol City, Miami Beach, and Opa-locka. Another firm, Youth Co-Op, runs a combined eight centers in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties. The two companies accounted for 78 percent of CSSF's entire job-placement numbers for the 2015-16 reporting period.

Auditors said yesterday that Arbor's centers had "clearly misrepresented their job placement numbers." Jobs placed at one center (say, Hialeah) were being reclassified as having been placed at other centers that weren't meeting mandated benchmarks. In the worst case, 18 of 28 cases the auditors checked (64 percent) at the Opa-locka center had actually been handled by other offices.

The OIG eventually found that 285 of Arbor's job placements for 2016-17 had been misrepresented, and ordered Arbor to repay $151,625 in public funding. The audit said that "Arbor, while initially disagreeing with the disallowance amount, eventually accepted the findings" and repaid the money. As of this past May, Arbor has stopped operating three of its centers in Miami-Dade and now runs only its Hialeah complex.

Investigators found that Youth Co-Op, meanwhile, could not verify 32 alleged job placements the company reported from 2015 through 2017. This led auditors to question $12,500 in taxpayer payments to the company. Youth Co-Op reported in 2016-17 documents that it had placed 25 workers at Centerplate, a food-service and concessions company operating inside Hard Rock Stadium — but investigators were able to confirm only that six people from Youth Co-Op had taken jobs there.

Youth Co-Op also reported it had placed 30 workers at a company called Accurate Event Group, but auditors discovered that, in 13 cases, records were either incomplete or nonexistent. They could not confirm that anyone had actually worked at the facilities. (Auditors did confirm that Youth Co-Op placed its full, reported list of employees at five other businesses. The agency told the OIG that it disagrees with the findings.)

In the past, Suarez has criticized Miami-Dade's business-development group the Beacon Council for inflated stats. He's particularly upset about the CSSF report's findings, though. He's now calling for local and state officials to reevaluate how they keep track of CareerSource's job-reporting statistics. "I think a full-fledged hearing from the commissioners who sit on their board is warranted," Suarez said.

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