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House advances claim bill for abuse survivor Victor Barahona

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Among the claim bills advanced Thursday is one approving $3.75 million payment in the death of Nubia Barahona.

The payment from the Department of Children and Families would also compensate for injuries to Nubia’s twin brother Victor Barahona. The legislation, passed by the House Judiciary Committee, was filed by Miami Republican Jose Felix Diaz and Plantation Democrat Katie Edwards (HB 6523).

The case began February 2011, when Nubia Barahona’s decomposing body was found in the bed of her father’s pickup truck on I-95 in Palm Beach County. Victor Barahona was discovered convulsing in the truck. Both children had been doused with toxic chemicals.

“Over the years they were tortured, they were subjected to all sorts of abuse, mental and physical and sexual,” Diaz told the committee. “Ultimately, DCF dropped the ball quite a few times, and the sister ended up dead, and the brother ended up almost dead, doused in chemicals, and he’s lived to tell the tale.”

A report commissioned by then-DCF Secretary David Wilkins found the agency’s “failure in common sense, critical thinking, ownership, follow-through, and timely and accurate information-sharing” defined the care of Nubia and Victor.

DCF initially agreed to pay $5 million to the family and had already paid $1.25 million. The bill passed in committee would deliver two more payments of $1.875 million.

Sponsoring the bill is Miami Republican Anitere Flores (SB 18), who had been sponsoring the bill for the past four years, as has Diaz.

“He’s run this bill every year since we were freshmen in 2011, and hopefully this will be the year we get across the finish line,” said Tampa Republican Shawn Harrison.

Another claims bill passed by the committee was HB 6511 sponsored by Orlando Republican Mike Miller. It would create a Trust for Leticia Thomas, in a case that goes back to the mid-1990s.

DCF removed Thomas and her infant brother when she was 14 months old because they were not receiving adequate care. The agency temporarily placed the children into the home of the children’s great aunt and uncle, Vicki and Eddie Thomas.

A subsequent background check found Eddie Thomas had been charged with larceny (though not convicted). The background check did not reveal any prior history of violence, sex offenses or child abuse. After an investigation, DCF determined that the Thomases could provide a safe environment for the children.

However, in August 1996 — approximately a year after the two children had been placed in the Thomases home — Eddie Thomas was charged with committing a lewd and lascivious act on a minor, and ultimately convicted of a child sex crime.

In May 1997, DCF recommended (and a judge approved) an order allowing Eddie Thomas to return home and have unsupervised contact with the children. He went on to sexually abuse Ms. Thomas.

“The good news, Mr. Chairman, is that she’s now 21 years old and in college to become a therapist and would like to specialize treating traumatized children,” Miller said.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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