Davie woman claims FEMA contractor was sexually inappropriate after Irma

After Hurricane Irma, relief workers poured into South Florida to inspect damaged homes, but one woman said a contractor crossed the line and then mishandled her claim.

Tina Stevens, like many in South Florida, began the process of getting back on her feet after her mobile home in Davie sustained significant water damage from the storm.

“It’s where I work. It’s where I lay my head. It’s where my kids sleep,” Stevens said.

She said a contractor estimated it would cost around $10,000 to make all the repairs. Because of the age of the home, Stevens said it was not considered insurable, so she applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance about a week after she got a visit from an inspector. 

“At first he was very polite,” Stevens said. “He kept remarking on how much damage I had.”

The inspector, who Stevens said was named Thomas, worked for Vanguard Emergency Management, which was contracted by FEMA.

Stevens said before leaving, the inspector crossed a line.

“I have about 22 tattoos and he said, ‘Oh, can I see them all?’ And I said, ‘Well, they’re underneath,’ and he was like, ‘Well, can I see them?”

According to Stevens, it’s not unusual for people to ask about her tattoo art, but she said she felt stuck because the man was handling her claim.

“I felt like the implication was there that, ‘I have your case, you have so much damage, let me come in and see your work,’ and so at first I was like, ‘OK, I can send you pictures of the art,’ and he said, ‘No, I want to see them in person,'” Stevens said. “And then it got a little awkward.”

About a week later, Stevens received a letter from FEMA denying her request for assistance. She appealed the decision only to get the same inspector assigned to her case.

“He said, ‘Oh, I have your claim. Do you want me to come by?'” Stevens said. 

Through text messages, Stevens said she offered to send updated photos of the damage. She said the inspector later wrote, “You never showed me that tat lol, but yes I’m still here.”

“I responded to him, ‘You never even tried to get to know me,'” Stevens said.

She said she was still trying to engage Thomas while making it clear she was not interested in anything physical. She said he claimed he made a mistake on her first application by checking the wrong box, resulting in the denial.

When asked if she felt like by blowing the inspector off, if affected her financially. Stevens said, “Yes, absolutely, and it kind of did.”

Stevens said she then received a text message from Thomas that said, “What if I was offering to do something for you without expecting nothing back?”

She said he then offered her a sex act, all while her appeal was still pending.

“I made it very clear that I was really disturbed by his actions,” Stevens said. “He knew nothing about me, and here he is again asking for inappropriate things.”

Stevens said she reported the incident to FEMA and Vanguard.

“I was getting nowhere,” she said. “His supervisor was like, ‘Well, I’ll ask him. Maybe they’ll transfer him to a different site.’ That’s not an adequate solution.”

A month after her initial denial, a new letter from FEMA approved Stevens for nearly $4,000 of assistance.

Local 10 News reached out to Vanguard. A representative told us the contractor has been deactivated, adding in a statement, “Vanguard is actively investigating this complaint. We hold our inspectors and contractors to the highest standards of professionalism and ethics, and take claims of misconduct very seriously.”

Stevens said she wants to keep the same thing from happening to the next woman in her position.

“It is totally inappropriate to take advantage of victims and see that they are weak and in need and continue to prey upon them,” she said.

Local 10 News also reached out to FEMA about the incident. A representative said the agency expects a high level of professionalism and takes reports of inappropriate behavior very seriously. They urge anyone with a complaint, issue or request for additional disaster assistance to call the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362.

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South Florida nursing homes found in compliance with emergency rule order

With the nursing home tragedy in Hollywood still unfolding, the state sent out a list of facilities accused of not complying with Gov. Rick Scott’s new emergency generator rules.

But Local 10 News reporter Glenna Milberg discovered Thursday that the list is not accurate.

University Plaza in Miami has done everything by the governor’s post-Hurricane Irma emergency rule, which is to have the ability to provide generator power for four days or submit documents to show the plan is in the works.

The mandate was issued to state nursing homes after overheated residents of the rehabilitation center of Hollywood Hills died in the days after Irma.

The list of nursing homes that were not in compliance with the order was sent to news organizations by Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration. 

“It was very upsetting because we are in compliance,” said Barbara Yanez-Artiles, of University Plaza Nursing home.  

The Riviera Health Resort in Coral Gables was also on the list, despite being in full compliance even before the governor’s rules.

“When we talked to the association, they explained to us the homes that were on the list were those that did not file for a variance request,” said Richard Stacey, of Riviera Health Resort.  

After a few visits, Milberg quickly realized that the list was significantly inaccurate. 

“Our generator runs the entire facility for over 200 hours,” Yanez-Artiles said. 

Aside from two South Florida nursing homes in full compliance, one facility had been closed down long ago.

Hours after sending the list of 23 non-responsive nursing homes to news organizations to broadcast, the AHCA admitted to discrepancies statewide.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the list of Florida nursing homes out of compliance with the governor’s orders dropped to just three — the Coral Reef Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, the Oceanside Extended Care Center in Miami Beach and W. Frank Wells Nursing Home in Baker County.

Milberg went to the Oceanside Extended Care Center Thursday and discovered that it had been closed and vacant for about a year.  

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Employee steals $1,860 worth of lottery tickets from Marathon Kmart, deputies say

A former Kmart employee was arrested last week, a month after he allegedly stole $1,860 worth of lottery tickets from a Kmart store in Marathon.

Jojy Joseph, 40, was arrested Nov. 1 in Lexington, South Carolina, on charges of grand theft and dealing in stolen property. 

The incident was reported to authorities Oct. 4 by the store’s general manager.

Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies said the manager of the Kmart at 5561 Overseas Highway placed rolls of various Florida Lottery scratch-off tickets inside the secured “cash office” Sept. 7, at which time the store was already closed for Hurricane Irma.

The manager said the tickets didn’t fit in the safe so he placed them in a shopping cart and covered them with a blue tarp.

Deputies said the store was closed that day and remained closed through Sept. 16.

Authorities said the tickets remained in the secured officer during that time frame and the only people with access to the office were employees.

According to an arrest warrant, a construction company was in the office Sept. 24 to replace some drywall. 

Deputies said the cart was pushed over to an adjacent room that employees only had access to.

The manager told deputies that he was preparing to put the tickets back on the floor Oct. 4 when he noticed 113 various scratch-offs were missing.

The manager watched the surveillance video but didn’t see anyone taking the tickets.

However, authorities said the surveillance camera was “locked” and could not be viewed on Sept. 24 when the tickets were moved. 

Deputies said 20 winning tickets were cashed out at various stores in the Florida Keys.

The manager retrieved surveillance video from some of the stores and identified the suspect as Joseph, who was a Kmart employee.

Detectives said Joseph denied stealing the tickets, and said that he cashed lottery tickets on behalf of a Kmart customer who came into the store after the storm and needed the services of Western Union to get money.

He said Kmart’s Western Union service was down, as was their lottery service, so he offered to take some of her winning lottery tickets to the nearest available place, authorities said.

Deputies said Joseph disconnected his phone after speaking with the detective and did not return any future calls.

Authorities said Joseph now lives and works in South Carolina. 

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People with last names beginning with G-P line up for D-SNAP cards

Long lines formed early Wednesday for the second day that the Florida Department of Children and Families is handing out D-SNAP cards for people affected by Hurricane Irma.

Thousands of people are expected to show up Wednesday to get one of the food cards after a busy Tuesday, which led to congestion and frustration around Hard Rock Stadium and the BB&T Center.

Authorities said they are hoping to keep things under control for Wednesday’s events and Local 10 News reporter Layron Livingston said things appeared to be running more smoothly Wednesday at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Florida Department of Children and Families says at last check, 150,000 people in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties who were affected by Hurricane Irma had pre-registered to get D-SNAP cards this week.

“It’s a necessity,” one woman told Local 10 News. “You know, we did lose a lot of money with the food and we were two weeks without light, two weeks without the services, so we did need the food and stuff.”

DCF officials in both Broward and Miami-Dade counties are running on a staggered schedule, meaning they’re serving customers over three days based on the first letter of the recipient’s last name.

On Wednesday, they will be giving out cards to people with last names beginning with G through P.

The D-SNAP card allows people to purchase groceries who don’t quality for regular food stamps, but who suffered a disaster-related loss.

D-SNAP cards will be given out from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

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Miami neighborhood now sits adjacent to debris dump site after Hurricane Irma

There are six sites in Miami-Dade County where debris from Hurricane Irma is being dumped and processed.

But only one of those dump sites sits adjacent to a residential community, and the people who live in that neighborhood are not happy.

What residents of the Northpark at Scott Carver development in Miami see every day is an unsightly, smelly and unhealthy mountain of storm debris and trash.

“On Oct. 7, I started to see trucks unloading in this open lot,” Sonya Brown-Wilson said. 

The trucks have kept on coming for weeks after the storm and the debris piles continue to rise to about 30 feet in the air.

“I have one resident, Ms. Clark, who lives directly in front and she’s complaining about her breathing. She has to put on a mask when she comes outside,” Joanna Janvier said.  

Several residents of the development and surrounding areas said the dump is making them sick.

“I’m not feeling very healthy,” Kimberly Smith said. “I’m not feeling well.”

No one wants a dump across the street from where they live, but the residents of Northpark said they found it there one day in early October with no warning.

“One of the biggest injustices that has happened in this case is the failure to inform, consult with and speak with residents who were going to be directly impacted by this dump behind us,” said Meena Jagannath with the Community Justice Project. 

One resident showed Local 10 News reporter Michael Putney a letter from Miami-Dade Solid Waste, saying the trucks would stop dumping Nov. 1, but Putney saw trucks still arriving Friday afternoon.

“And I want to know, how long is this going to be?” one woman asked.

Miami-Dade County officials said the dump area should be cleaned up by January. 

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West Park girl honored for saving family from house fire during Hurricane Irma

A young girl is being hailed a hero after she helped save more than a dozen of her relatives from a house fire as they rode out Hurricane Irma together. 

“I smelt fire so I jumped out of my bed and my mom woke up too,” Jahnay Smith told Local 10 News. “I smelled smoke, but she thought it was light, so she told me to go over there and look by the window and then there was fire.”

Authorities said 14 relatives were inside the West Park home Sept. 9 when Hurricane Irma began blowing through South Florida.

Police said the cause of the fire was electrical. 

Jahnay, 8, was emotional as she described waking everyone up that day and helping them out of the burning home.

“But now our house is gone,” she said. “I had to push my dad. He’s a little slow. He has a sore leg.”

The mayor of West Park, city commissioners and neighbors rushed over to the victims’ home. helping to coordinate getting the family to a storm shelter as Irma churned closer.

“The devil was trying to get us with his demons, but I fight. I fight for my family and I try to make everyone better,” Jahnay said. “I try to be the hero.”

Recognizing her for that heroism, the same city commissioners brought Jahnay to their meeting Wednesday night where she was presented with a proclamation, gifts and a reunion with the firefighters who responded to her home that day.

“I’m very surprised and very thankful, because I saved my very own family and nothing happened to them,” Jahnay said.

Jahnay’s family says they are very proud of her heroism. 

“She is a brilliant little girl. All I can say is, thank God that she is here today,” Jahnay’s mother, Geraldine Paul, said.   

“It was a big fire. Without her alerting everybody, who knows what could’ve happened with the rest of the family,” Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue Capt. Brendan Brannigan said. 

Jahnay’s family is still slowly picking up the pieces of their lives after the devastating fire.

As for Jahnay, she says she wants to be a firefighter or a police officer when she grows up.

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