Started by K9, Oct 30, 2007, 06:49 AM
Posted on Wed, Oct. 24, 2007 Ex-DCF worker faces state chargesBY GARY FINEOUTA Department of Children & Families employee may have misused her position as a state worker by helping a former employee prepare documents that were used to help keep a young girl in Chile with her mother, instead of reuniting the child with her father in Miami, state officials say.The Florida Commission on Ethics has found that enough evidence exists to charge Maria Fernandez, a 25-year DCF veteran who retired in late 2005, with breaking state law by notarizing documents that purported to be prepared by the agency but were not. If the charge is upheld, Fernandez could ultimately be fined as much as $10,000.The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office is also investigating whether criminal charges should be filed in the case, which centers on a young girl who lived in Florida from May 2003 to November 2004. She is now 5 years old.The girl's father, who works as a researcher at the University of Miami, maintains that his daughter has been ''kidnapped'' by her Chilean mother and that DCF has done little to help him regain custody.''I just pray for my daughter and I pray for these people who did this. They need to repent and they need to come clean in their heart. This is not the way we do business,'' said the father.Fernandez, a clerk typist and notary in the Miami offices of DCF, notarized a stack of documents in February 2005 given to her by Alicia Delgado, including an affidavit, written on DCF letterhead, that said DCF had investigated the father for child abuse. Fernandez notarized the document four months after Delgado had quit her job with DCF.An internal investigation by DCF conducted in 2006 showed Delgado had no direct dealings with the family, and another DCF employee denied ever discussing the case with Delgado. But the affidavit was ultimately used by a court in Chile to deny a request by the father to return the child to the United States, saying the young girl would be subject to ''grave risk of harm'' if sent back.The DCF report states that Delgado may have violated state law by claiming to be a state employee at the time she prepared the affidavit and that she may have violated confidentiality laws. The report was forwarded to the state's attorney office. A spokeswoman on Wednesday said the investigation remained ''open'' and could not comment further.John Sutton, a South Miami lawyer representing Fernandez, would not comment Wednesday on the ethics charges or the ongoing criminal investigation.But Fernandez told investigators for the ethics commission that while she knew Delgado was no longer a DCF employee, she notarized the document because ''she believed Ms. Delgado's affidavit was in the best interest of the child.'' Fernandez also agreed to notarize Delgado's affidavit even though it was written in Spanish and other official documents used by the department are written in English.
But Fernandez told investigators for the ethics commission that while she knew Delgado was no longer a DCF employee, she notarized the document because ''she believed Ms. Delgado's affidavit was in the best interest of the child.''