I-Team: State law makers are looking into a local charity's grant money

Posted at 11:31 PM, Dec 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-07 23:31:27-05

State law makers are looking into a local charity's grant money following an I-Team investigation.

Millions of state dollars granted to local charity Bridging Freedom has been creating controversy because many argue there is nothing to show for it.

"The legislature is going to take this very seriously. And we are going to be looking into this. And we are going to make sure every penny is accounted for," says State representative Daniel Burgess.
He's one of many state legislators who feel grant money to Bridging Freedom needs to be scrutinized.

Bridging freedom wants to build a campus style environment for victims of human trafficking. It would sit on a hundred acres in Pasco County, with horses and butterfly gardens. The problem is many are frustrated that nothing has been built since they were established in 2011.

Pasco County Judge Lynn Tepper questions why legislators awarded the grants.      

"I remember when the 1.2 million was awarded to a program that doesn't exist. I was horrified," she told us back in November.

The I-Team first revealed Bridging Freedom received a $1 million grant from the state in 2015.

Earlier this year the state granted them a $1.2 million grant that recurs every year until it's changed. That grant was part of $6.8 million that was granted to 8 organizations statewide.

The I-Team has confirmed Bridging Freedom was the only organization that received a recurring grant.

"I have a problem with that amount of money it seems exceedingly unwise when we have immediate services. It makes no sense to me," Judge Tepper says.

State Representative Ross Spano tells us he believes in their vision but wants to know where and how the money will be spent.

"Just because that appropriation passed 2 legislative sessions that doesn't mean they receive the money at that point. I think every appropriation needs scrutiny i don't care what it is we're talking about the tax payers money," Rep Spano says.

Newly elected House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants to review all recurring grants including Bridging Freedom's. He's also putting the brakes on recurring grants in the future.

"The speaker has made very clear that we are no longer going to be going on a recurring basis that all projects and appropriations will be on a non recurring basis from this point going forward," says Rep. Burgess

"And that's not something that's been done in the past.... But under no circumstances or circumstance can i see a situation where they would continue to receive a recurring allocation if we don't see results," says Rep Spano.

Bridging Freedom's President Laura Hamilton canceled a scheduled interview with us for our first story.

We reached out again to give her an opportunity. She again declined an interview, but has agreed to meet with us next week. We'll let you know how it goes.


Jarrod Holbrook is an Emmy and AP Award-winning Investigative Reporter for the ABC Action News I-Team.

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