NewsPinellas County

Actions

Owners of Corner Garden Produce Market in St. Pete sue over denial of EBT eligibility

Speaker family headed to federal court
Posted at 5:45 PM, Feb 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-16 08:47:29-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The owners of a South St. Petersburg produce stand are taking leaders from the federal government to court. The lawsuit could impact hundreds of people in Pinellas County without access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

St. Petersburg leaders continue to struggle to find a new tenant at Tangerine Plaza in the Midtown area of St. Petersburg. It's where both a Sweetbay and a Walmart Neighborhood Market shut their doors, leaving a food desert for people in South St. Pete. The nearest grocery store is about two miles away.

PINELLAS NEWS | The latest headlines from Pinellas County

Dorian and Maria Speaker came up with their own solution to help the community. They opened a Corner Garden Produce Market just steps away from their moving company's office at 2300 4th Avenue South.

The couple came up with the idea after their daughter Makenzie, who is a vegetarian, complained to them about the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables within walking distance of her parent's office.

They opened the produce market in January 2019. Yet, they quickly realized they had a problem.

Most of their customers rely on food stamps or SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) to pay for produce.

The couple applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to accept EBT cards, but within months, they received a letter denying their application.

The reason: A misdemeanor on Dorian Speaker’s record from 19 years ago when officers charged him with resisting arrest without violence.

“Just because you make a mistake when you’re a teenager doesn’t make you a criminal,” Dorian Speaker said.

Now, the Speaker family has hired an attorney and are preparing to take their case to the federal courthouse.

“I trust that we’ll come out victorious,” Speaker added.

Their attorney, Andy Tapp of Metropolitan Law Group in Tampa, won a similar suit in Oregon. Tapp argued that a person’s past shouldn’t dictate their ability to conduct business nearly two decades later.

“I don’t see why I should stall my life out for a mistake,” Speaker said with a sigh.

A judge is expected to weigh in on the case in either April or May, according to Tapp.

ABC Action News reached out to the Department of Agriculture and is still waiting to hear back from them regarding the case.

In the denial letter sent to the Speaker family, a letter cited the reason for denial as a “lack of business integrity.”

Here is the full denial letter sent to the Speaker family: