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Insult to Injury, March 2014

Before any X-ray was taken, any blood collected, any medicine delivered to his broken body, crash victim Eric Leonhard was charged $32,767 just to pass through the doors of a Fort Pierce trauma center. • The bill was not for the surgery Leonhard needed to piece together his shattered pelvis. In fact, after exactly 40 minutes, doctors decided to transfer him because they didn’t have the right specialist for the job. So they loaded Leonhard onto a helicopter and sent him to another hospital on Florida’s east coast. • Lawnwood Regional Medical Center still charged Leonhard, an uninsured tour boat captain, nearly $1,000 for every minute he spent with the medical team that couldn’t fix him. • Every day in Florida, injured people face the same kind of outrageous entry fees because they are taken to a state-designated trauma center. • With virtually no government oversight, these specialized hospitals can charge what they want, when they want, with little chance of being flagged for profiteering…

In God’s Name, October 2012

… The Tampa Bay Times spent a year investigating more than 30 religious homes that have housed children in recent years across Florida. Some operate with a religious exemption, legally regulated by a private Christian organization instead of the state. Others lost their exemption and operate with no legal accreditation at all.

Although most drew few complaints, nearly a dozen have been hounded by allegations of abuse. A review of thousands of pages of investigative files and interviews with dozens of former residents found:

• State authorities have responded to at least 165 allegations of abuse and neglect in the past decade, but homes have remained open even after the state found evidence of sex abuse and physical injury.

• The religious exemption has for decades allowed homes to avoid state restrictions on corporal punishment. Homes have pinned children to the ground for hours, confined them in seclusion for days, made them stand until they wet themselves and exercised them until they vomited.

• Children have been bruised, bloodied and choked to unconsciousness in the name of Christian discipline. A few barely escaped with their lives. In addition, in two settled lawsuits, a mother said her son was forced to hike on broken feet; a father said his son was handcuffed, bound at the feet, locked away for three days and struck by other boys at the instruction of the home.

• Adults have ordered children to participate in the punishment, requiring them to act as jailers, to bully troublemakers or to chase, tackle and sit on their peers.

• Teens have been denounced as sinners, called “faggots” and “whores,” and humiliated in front of their peers for menstrual stains and suspicions of masturbation.

• Parents share the blame. Some sign away their children for a year or more without first visiting a home or checking credentials. But state officials bear some responsibility because they have not warned the public about programs they believe are abusive.

• Florida taxpayers have supported some unlicensed homes with hundreds of thousands of dollars in McKay scholarships — a government program to help special needs students pay tuition at private schools.

In Florida, the vast majority of children’s homes are regulated and inspected by the state Department of Children and Families. But under Florida law, a home can shield itself from that oversight by claiming a religious exemption. Yearlong investigation, including project impact.

Zoo Chief Out, Fall 2008

The man who transformed one of the worst zoos in America into the nationally renowned institution that is Lowry Park Zoo resigned Thursday, giving up a fight that roiled the city for months. Lex Salisbury walked away from a five-hour board of directors meeting, head bowed and silent. He left behind a 21-year career and $339,000 in annual pay, and stepped into a future of fines and the possibility of criminal charges. In front of a board of his friends, community leaders and government officials, the zoo president fought hard for his job, said those who attended the closed-door meeting. He gave explanations. He said people make mistakes. But in the face of a 60-page city audit that concluded Salisbury used zoo animals, materials and employees for his personal enrichment, he lost

How it began:

Story one. Catching up to the competition.

Scoops along the way:

New ground: “One antelope and one giraffe died. One warthog was quickly transferred to another zoo. Another has vanished from records.”

The exclusive interview: “Some don’t understand why he keeps giraffes on his property. Why he uses animal skulls as decoration. Why when his zebra died, he had it made it into a rug. ‘It’s an education thing,’ he says. ‘It’s a shame to take a beautiful animal like that and just bury it.'”

His ties: “The list includes an amusement park in Maine where an elephant plays the harmonica and a breeder in Kansas who sold exotic birds to a pet shop. There’s a drive-through safari park in North Carolina where zebras can stick their heads into your car. And an animal dealer in Texas that bought a Web domain titled”

His board member:  “It was a win-win deal.”

Where are the zoo’s tiger cubs?: Said Satch Krantz, president of the South Carolina zoo: “Much of what we’re reading — certainly in that audit — is unprecedented in our profession.”


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