PINELLAS PARK — Pinellas County sheriff’s detectives are investigating allegations that the director of a drug rehab program used his influence with the courts to seek sexual favors from female clients.
Pinellas courts have stopped referring defendants to the program, Simply Hope, based in Pinellas Park, and the public defender’s office has removed as many as nine female clients from the program’s residences.
One of the allegations was raised by Jetta Deitchman, 27, who spoke with a Pinellas sheriff’s detective about an incident involving Simply Hope’s director, Ray Harris, according to probation records obtained by News Channel 8. The records say that after the interview, Deitchman was referred to a group that helps victims of abuse.
Deitchman’s attorney, Roger Futerman, told News Channel 8 his client was a victim of sexual abuse and is cooperating with law enforcement in a criminal investigation involving Harris. The Tampa Tribune and News Channel 8 routinely withhold the names of people who allege sexual abuse, but Futerman said Deitchman agreed to allow her name to be made public.
Harris has refused comment, referring questions to his attorney Denis DeVlaming. DeVlaming said he and Harris will meet with detectives next week to try to clear up things said about Harris.
Meantime, Harris is staying clear of Simply Hope and the court for the time being, DeVlaming said.
Harris said he turned his life around after serving time twice in Florida state prison: for trafficking stolen property, manufacturing and delivering heroin, and organized fraud.
The drug court in Pinellas County referred Jetta Deitchman to Simply Hope as part of its jail-diversion program. Deitchman has a history of drug-related arrests dating to 2004.
She said Harris sexually abused her last March. The day after, according to lawyer Futerman, Deitchman secretly recorded on her cellphone a brief encounter with Harris.
Then in April, Deitchman fled Simply Hope, violating the terms of her probation. She was arrested in July on a charge of probation violation.
Another former client of Simply Hope, 29-year-old Korrine Burdick, also spoke recently with sheriff’s detectives about Harris.
Burdick told News Channel 8 that she related to investigators what she had told her probation officer back in 2010, that Harris propositioned her.
“He’s, ‘Well, I’m in control here and basically what I says goes and you can either give me what I want or you can go to prison,' ” Burdick said.
The drug court had referred Burdick to Simply Hope in November 2009. By December, she faced trouble with the court over drug tests that Harris reported she failed.
Burdick said that in a private meeting with Harris, he told her everything with the court would be OK if she gave him what he wanted.
“I started to get up and he came around and he kind of sat me back down and started rubbing my shoulders and he’s like, ‘You, like I said, you just give me what I want, give me what I want,' ” she said.
Burdick also fled from Simply Hope, violating her probation.
DeVlaming, Harris’ attorney, said there is proof Burdick took back her allegations and failed drug tests while at Simply Hope. Burdick insists she never recanted. Records raise a question about whether she did but they do show she failed two drug tests.
Former Simply Hope administrator Teresa Croyle, who is Harris’ former fiancée, told News Channel 8 she discovered in January some inappropriate texts on Harris’ cellphone with several former clients, including Jetta Deitchman.
“He made reference to her butt, he made reference to wanting to rub her down with oil,” Croyle recalled.
Croyle says that when she confronted him, he said he was conducting covert operations for the drug court team.
Croyle questioned why the operations would have involved only females; a circuit court spokesman called the idea “ridiculous.”