I-Team: Man banned from teaching in Florida for lewd behavior allowed to work with children

Background checks fail to uncover troubling past

TAMPA, Fla. - You expect people who work closely with children to undergo extensive background checks to make sure there's nothing troubling in their past.

But the I-Team has discovered a case in which a man who admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with a teenager managed to continue working closely with kids for years both as a teacher and a social worker.

Jeromi Birtikidis is forbidden to work as a teacher in Florida in the future because his past behavior led the state to deny him a teaching certificate.

The I-Team has learned that up until recently, Birtikidis continued to work closely with some of the Tampa Bay area's most vulnerable children.

In 2010, the former special education teacher admitted to sending sexually explicit text messages to a 14-year-old female Levy County middle school student.

Deputies were contacted by the girl's parents after they learned he planned sexual encounters with their daughter.

Reports show that at the time, Birtikidis had 114 teenage Facebook friends and admitted he was "consistently under the influence of prescription narcotics."

“Clearly it's a person who doesn't have boundaries,” said attorney Robin Rosenburg, assistant director of Florida’s Children First, a watchdog agency that protects the rights of children.

She says it’s troubling he would be given other opportunities to interact with vulnerable youth, especially foster children.

“They are particularly vulnerable to advances from people who are in positions of authority," she said.

The State Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Birtikidis, but in September 2010, Levy County Schools informed the Florida Department of Education about the incident.

In early 2011, Birtikidis worked as an intern and later a substitute teacher for Hillsborough County Schools.

The state requires a thorough background check, including calling prior employers.

“Did they not answer? Did they not give complete answers? Did someone forget to pick up the phone?” said Rosenberg, speculating on how he continued to work in the education system after the Levy County investigation.

Hillsborough County Schools spokesman Stephen Hegarty says he has no documents to indicate Levy County was ever called.

Birtikidis' past came to light during the summer of 2011 when he applied for another position in the district.

He was not hired and, according to Hegarty, had no role at the school after July 2011.

He was hired to work as an adoption case manager with foster children at the Devereux Foundation in December 2011.

In June 2013, Birtikidis accepted a similar job at Camelot Community Care after obtaining clearance from the state.

“The danger is to those children that they will become victims of yet another adult who should be trusted to take care of them,” said Rosenberg.

Both adoption agencies say Hillsborough County Schools failed to tell them about any issues.

The school district says nobody can verify getting those calls.

A simple Google search of Birtikidis' name pulls up his teaching certificate denial on the first page.

But that will likely change, since last month a Pinellas County judge approved Birtikidis' request that his name be changed to Jeromi Critikos.

“It's concerning any time someone slips through the cracks. You hope you have a system in place that would keep out individuals with a history like that,” said Rosenberg.

Hillsborough County Schools, Devereux and Camelot all say they had no known problems with Birtikidis when he worked for those organizations.

We contacted Critikos by mail, phone, email and Facebook, but he never responded.

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