Pinellas drug court sending women back to Simply Hope - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken News, Weather, Sports

Pinellas drug court sending women back to Simply Hope

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The Pinellas County drug court has resumed referring women defendants charged with drug crimes to Simply Hope, Inc.

The court stopped sending women to Simply Hope last summer following allegations that the program's director Ray Harris, sexually harassed and abused clients.

Chief Judge J. Thomas McGrady says Simply Hope offers defendants a safe place to stay in a drug free environment, gets them out of jail and hopefully on the road to recovery.

He claims the court received requests from defense attorneys and the public defender's office to provide more transitional housing.

"Once we learned that Mr. Harris was no longer associated with Simply Hope at all, and we had confidence that those who have taken over the program understand their role, we then at the request of the defense attorneys decided it would be a good opportunity to again send defendants to that," McGrady said.

Harris is the longtime director of Simply Hope. His reports about clients to the court meant the difference between staying in a residential program or going to prison.

Three former clients told 8 On Your Side that Harris made unwanted advances.

Harris' former fiancee Teresa Croyle claims while she worked as an administrator at Simply Hope, she learned that Harris was in a "sexting" relationship with at least seven former clients.

"What I read was absolutely disgusting," Croyle said.

In March 2013, Simply Hope client Jetta Deitchman claimed that Harris sexually abused her.

In April, she secretly recorded an encounter with Harris on her cell phone while she performed community service cleaning an office.

On the recording, you can clearly hear Harris kissing Deitchman.

Pinellas Sheriff's Office detectives investigated, then turned the matter over to the State Attorney to determine if criminal charges should be filed.

"An administrator of Simply Hope should not be kissing a client of Simply Hope," Pinellas Public Defender Bob Dillinger told 8 On Your Side.

After learning of the recording, Dillinger removed from Simply Hope all female clients his office paid to house there.

Contrary to what Judge McGrady claims, Dillinger stated in an email that he not only removed all clients from Simply Hope, he has removed the program from the Public Defender's referral list.

"I wasn't aware of that," McGrady said.

Simply Hope offers no counseling and according to Croyle, no one on staff holds drug treatment credentials.

Harris is a former felon who claims to have turned his life around. Clients are placed in small houses with other drug abusers.

Judge McGrady admitted he has not ever visited one of Simply Hope's houses.

When asked what the circuit required of transitional housing facilities like Simply Hope before judges refer defendants, McGrady said he wasn't sure.

A source tells 8 On Your Side the State Attorney's office is continuing the investigation into Simply Hope and Ray Harris.

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