More than 8,700 people initially barred from being caregivers due to criminal records have been granted special permission by the state to work with children, the elderly and the infirm, a recent investigation found.
About 1,800 -- or one in five -- were arrested again, some within days of the determination that they were of "good moral character" and could be trusted to care for the state's most vulnerable residents.
Felons have been allowed to work in day care centers, assisted living facilities and nursing homes through an exemption system created by Florida legislators in 1985.
The system was meant to give those with a long-ago minor offense a second chance, but convicts with multiple prison stints and career criminals with records spanning decades sail through with little resistance -- 82 percent get an exemption.
Lucia Rivera, then 44, pleaded guilty in 1999 to aggravated assault and other charges for beating the girlfriend of her estranged husband and encouraging an accomplice to slice the woman's face with a knife. In 2005, she applied for -- and received -- an exemption from the state's Agency for Health Care Administration. In 2008, while working as the business manager at Avante in St. Cloud, Rivera was charged with stealing more than $36,000 from dozens of patient accounts. "Most of those people were bedridden, comatose," said Kathy Foust, a guardian for several victims. (Florida Department of Corrections)
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Trust Betrayed: Exemptions Let Felons Watch Over Vulnerable