A Broward sheriff’s employee entrusted to help shield kids from harm didn’t even bother to meet five children she needed to watch over, possibly compromising their safety, authorities say.
Sheriff’s child investigative specialist Sandra Marti has been arrested, accused of falsifying reports that stated she had met with the children, according to a sheriff’s report. Instead, Marti simply arranged for parents to send her cellphone photos of the children, the report said.
Marti was jailed Wednesday on multiple counts of falsifying reports, records show.
“The falsification of official records, and the potential risks that any kind of falsification could pose for children, will not be tolerated,” said Dennis Miles, the regional managing director for the state’s Department of Children and Families’ Southeast Region.
Marti submitted the falsified records involving the five children between Dec. 1, 2011, and June 30 this year, the Sheriff’s Office said. Detectives found that those children are doing well, sheriff’s spokeswoman Keyla Concepcion said.
“We have gone back and made sure that all of those kids were safe, and the original allegations had been addressed,” she said.
An investigation into Marti’s actions began in June when a child’s mother phoned the Broward Sheriff’s Office. The mother said she planned to send Marti a photo of her son, but couldn’t because she had lost Marti’s phone number, an arrest report said.
That was a red flag for Marti’s supervisor, Concepcion said.
Detectives from the Broward Sheriff’s Public Corruption Unit reached out to several parents who each similarly detailed Marti’s instructions to send her photos of their children. They all said their sons and daughters did not meet with her on instances when she indicated they had, according to an arrest report.
Marti, a civilian employee, is currently suspended without pay, Concepcion said. Marti, 57, of Coral Springs, has been employed with the Sheriff’s Office for nine years.
She previously worked in pre-trial services and community control supervision of offenders, and later began working as a child investigative specialist.
Detectives have reviewed all of Marti’s cases since July 2010 — when she began working in the Child Protective Investigations Section — and only found five cases “in which she acted inappropriately,” Concepcion said.
Marti, who was freed from jail on a $5,000 bond, could not be reached for comment Thursday despite several attempts to contact her via a relative.
As part of their role, child protective investigators take a look at allegations of abuse, neglect or abandonment that come into the DCF hotline. Those cases range from neglecting to offer a child medical attention, to leaving minors who cannot care for themselves home alone, to sexual abuse, DCF spokeswoman Paige Patterson-Hughes said.
However, it was not known Thursday what circumstances led Marti to each of the cases for which she allegedly falsified reports.
“It’s important for there to be the appropriate contact with the potential victim and other people involved,” Patterson-Hughes said. “Not following through clearly is a problem.”
In the case that helped start the investigation, Marti filed a report indicating she met a child on June 13 this year, authorities said. But in a sworn statement, the boy’s mother said Marti did not meet her son and instead asked the mother for a cellphone photo.
According to the arrest report, investigators found that Marti filed a report in January 2012 stating that she had met with another child. But that boy’s mother also gave a sworn statement that said Marti didn’t see her son.
The scenario repeated itself in December 2012, when Marti said in a report she visited a 7-year-old girl at Croissant Park Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, an arrest report said. But the school’s assistant vice principal said she had no record of an investigator visiting the child at the time, the report said.
Marti allegedly also asked that girl’s mother to send a cellphone snapshot of her other child, a 2-year-old girl. The mother, in a sworn statement, said she did as instructed.
In April 2013, Marti gave a 16-year-old boy’s mother her business card and asked that his photo be emailed to her, the report said. The boy told investigators that he never met Marti, but did take a photo of himself on his cellphone and emailed it to Marti.
Patterson-Hughes said meeting people is essential: It offers investigators clues to anything else that should be taken into account during their investigation.
“Clearly, when you’re talking to a person, you’re oftentimes taking in more than the words. You’re looking at other aspects, the behavior, the demeanor and the circumstances that brought you to the person in the first place,” Patterson-Hughes said.
Marti also is accused of falsifying a report that said she had met with a parent, authorities said.
In May this year, Marti allegedly filed a report stating she had met with the father of a child who had an open case, authorities said. The father told detectives that he had a telephone conversation with a child protective investigator, but did not meet the investigator in person, the arrest report said.
Miles called the allegations against Marti a “serious matter” and commended the Sheriff’s Office for investigating. In an emailed statement Thursday, he said that DCF “will work with [sheriff’s] investigators to ensure the integrity of other cases which involved this investigator.”