The mayor of Apopka’s foray into a side business has brought accusations of using his political clout to gain taxpayer money for a felon reform program that has yet to start.

In February, Mayor Joe Kilsheimer and three business partners formed Certified Second Chance Inc., a corporation that would help felons get jobs by verifying that they are living crime and drug free lives. None of the four partners have experience in felon reform.

The corporation was formed just days before State Senator Randolph Bracy, who represents Apopka, requested $500,000 for the for-profit social purpose corporation (SPC) in the state budget. The SPC designation allows corporations to consider public interest goals instead of relying on profit maximization.

Bracy did not return a reporter’s phone call.

The move caused Central Florida Post blogger Jacob Engels to accuse Kilsheimer of using his influence as mayor to get a taxpayer funded investment for his for-profit business.

Kilsheimer was angered by the accusation and said Engels initially never called to talk about the issue.

“Every dime would go into the program and not one of the directors would be paid,” said Kilsheimer, who came up with the idea to help felons while working on the 2009 St. Petersburg mayoral campaign of Deveron Gibbons. “To have it characterized as some kind of get-rich scheme on the backs of Florida taxpayers has been disappointing.”

The Apopka mayor said he was working with Gibbons when he met a felon who described how difficult it was to find a job after being released from prison. Gibbons is a partner in Certified Second Chance.

Kilsheimer wrote a business plan and worked on the concept for the past eight years. He said while attending Bracy’s swearing in ceremony, he heard about his criminal justice reform ideas and asked him to request money for Certified Second Chance.

“It would save the state a lot of money by reducing the recidivism rate of former felons,” the mayor said. “In Florida, 60 percent of felons go back to jail. It costs $30,000 a year to keep an inmate in prison.”

Along with Kilsheimer and Gibbons, the other partners are Bobby Olszewski, a former Winter Garden commissioner, and Allan Chernoff, CEO of the City of Life Foundation. The City of Apopka has given City of Life $55,000 to manage a program to improve Apopka-area schools.

When asked whether Kilsheimer’s partnership with Chernoff was a conflict of interest, the mayor said he has asked the city attorney if there is a conflict, and if so, Chernoff will resign his CSC partnership. He has not received a determination yet from the attorney.

Chernoff hung up when a reporter called to ask about Certified Second Chance. Gibbons could not be reached. Olszewski said he got involved after Kilsheimer, a longtime friend, asked for his business expertise.

CSC would contract with former felons that agree to live crime and drug free, while making any needed restitution through the organization. It would monitor the clients with random drug tests kept in a data base used by companies that agree to hire them.

Kilsheimer said CSC would entice companies to hire former felons and help reduce recidivism, a national problem. He believes other states would be interested in the corporation. He chose to make it a for-profit social purpose corporation “because it’s easier to attach private capital to underwrite expansion much quicker than if it were a nonprofit.”

Don Pittman, who retired after serving 23 years as Orange County Corrections chief probations supervisor, said he believes CSC would be “a comprehensive program that will make a greater impact than probation officers who carry large caseloads.”

“Recidivism is incredibly expensive, as people recycle in and out of system, they do not pay taxes, do not work, do not take care of their familes,” said Pittman, who has consulted with CSC. “Joe Kilsheimer and his partners are sincere, committed and passionate for all the right reasons.”

Glen Casel, president and CEO of Community Based Care of Central Florida, has volunteered his organization to provide administrative back office work for CSC.

“As a foster care agency that interacts with families that have broken down, we recognize the impact arrests and reentry have on families,” Casel said. “CSC would be would be good for the community and strengthen the safety net for our families.”

There are existing programs that ensure felons are safe to employ. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Federal Bonding Program allows employers to hire former felons with limited liability to their businesses. The program provides an insurance policy for theft, forgery, larceny or embezzlement by the bonded employee.

Kilsheimer said CSC is broader than the federal program because it would continue to monitor the former felons after they are employed.

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