The intimidating Zeus and Snoop keep protective eyes over Steve Interdonato at his bike shop on U.S. 19. It sits directly next to a Goodwill-run inmate work release center.
"It is caused a problem for the community since day one," he said.
It's considered the largest work release center in the state, housing a few hundred male inmates, some of whom investigators say are breaking the rules on a regular basis with little consequence.
"They're supposed to go to work, come back, that's it. But these guys have girlfriends, they have gym memberships, they're leaving hours and hours before they're supposed to go to work," Interdonato said.
The controversy reached a boiling point in September when an inmate escaped, then killed two men in St. Petersburg. Less than three months later, another inmate raped a 17-year-old exchange student nearby.
"That's not a responsibly run work release center," says Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
Fed up with the issues, Sheriff Gualitieri had his team conduct an 11-day surveillance operation on the center this month. He says, among other things, inmates left to make hand-to-hand transactions with others, even stopping at well-known drug spots.
The sheriff wants this place shut down. The problem? It's not his call. He has, however, sent a report to the State Department of Corrections, which funds it. Until something happens, he says his department will do all it can, but his options are limited.
"It shouldn't be on us...to do Goodwill's job," he said.
The Department of Corrections is reviewing the sheriff's information, and working on what steps to take next. Senator Jack Latvala has also reached out to Governor Rick Scott on the issue.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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