AMIkids Greater Fort Lauderdale serves 120 troubled teenagers a year. Judges often send youthful offenders to AMIkids when they complete their sentences in juvenile detention. The program is designed to get juvenile offenders back on the right path.
"This program has been a good program, produced a lot of success stories throughout the years," said Broward County Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes.
AMIkids does have a record of success. It claims more than 70 percent of its students have no further contact with the justice system once they finish the program. But Weekes is making explosive allegations about AMIkids in a letter he sent to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice in Tallahassee, warning of what he calls "disturbing abuse allegations."
"It's alleged that a child fathered a child from a staff member in the program," Weekes said.
The letter, with information from unnamed sources, asserts that an AMIkids staffer had a "sexual relationship" and "had a child with a youth" in the program.
"Not only was it troubling to learn of this, that staff member was allegedly nicknamed as a cradle robber in the program," Weekes said. "It is outrageous, it's not only a violation of trust between a staffer and a child, it's potentially criminal."
AMIkids Fort Lauderdale Director Luis Ceruti wouldn't talk to NBC 6 on camera Monday, but did say on the phone that as soon as he saw the letter, his agency began investigating the allegation and will get to the bottom of it. Then early Monday evening, the agency sent out a statement saying in part that "the employee was terminated."
It's not clear from the statement if that means the allegation that the employee had the baby of a student in the program is true.
But the letter from the Broward Public Defender's Office also makes another, separate allegation: that a different student in the program had "nude photographs" of a staffer in his cell phone. Ceruti and a spokesperson for AMIkids both said on the phone that they already knew of this case, that it involves a college intern, not a staffer, and it's being investigated
The public defender's office wants outside agencies to determine if any wrongdoing has occurred at AMIkids.
"This is not something that we can sit on, this is something that we have to bring to the attention not only of the courts but to the Department of Juvenile Justice and the public to insure that children are not being taken advantage of," Weekes said.
Late Monday afternoon, the Department of Juvenile Justice responded to Weekes' letter, saying it takes both allegations seriously, it has notified the Department of Children and Families, and an investigation will be done.
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