Fugitive recounts ordeal at Pinellas drug rehab - WNCN: News, Weather

Fugitive recounts ordeal at Pinellas drug rehab

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Ray Harris, director of Simply Hope Ray Harris, director of Simply Hope
Mugshot of Andrea Giamportone, who claims she fled Simply Hope after Ray Harris' advances Mugshot of Andrea Giamportone, who claims she fled Simply Hope after Ray Harris' advances
Korrine Burdick, another woman who claims Harris made sexual advances Korrine Burdick, another woman who claims Harris made sexual advances
HERNANDO COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Andrea Giamportone is a fugitive from the law. She has been in hiding for 5 years.

Giamportone, 32, emerged from her out-of-state sanctuary long enough to explain to 8 On Your Side what she claims happened to her at the Simply Hope drug rehab program in Pinellas County, and why she ran from it and its director, a man named Ray Harris.

"He would basically try to kiss me anytime we were alone, you know pulling me on the side of the house where I was staying at," Giamportone said.

Giamportone spoke to 8 On Your Side via Skype.  She says she is more than 1,000 miles away from the state of Florida, incarceration and Ray Harris.

A Pinellas judge sent her to the Simply Hope rehab program in 2007, following a series of drug-related arrests and a DUI crash that seriously injured another driver.

Records show she repeatedly violated probation.  She had been in the county jail for 4 months in late 2007 when Harris agreed to take her into his program.

"He picked me up from jail and as soon as I got out, sitting in the lobby, he gave me a kiss on the mouth.  At the time it was awkward, but you're so vulnerable and you're just so happy to be out the doors, that it really didn't register as a problem in my head until later on, unfortunately," she said.

Simply Hope is part of the Pinellas court jail diversion program.  It offers housing for drug abusers trying to get clean.  Tax dollars pay to house some clients there.

Ray Harris is Simply Hope's director and a member of its board of directors.  Harris is a convicted felon who claims to have turned his life around.  His reports on Simply Hope clients carry great weight with the courts.  Those reports help determine who stays in his drug rehab program and who goes to jail.

During Andrea Giamportone's roughly 3 months at Simply Hope, she remembers she and Harris flirted with one another and he took her to a friend's party.

"We were standing in the kitchen and he pulled me into the closet and tried to start kissing me and putting his hands all over me and I didn't want anybody to see that, it was embarrassing to me," Giamportone said.

She claims, during her stay at Simply Hope, Harris repeatedly kissed and touched her.

"He would hold on to me, put his hands down my back, towards, my, what's the word, my butt," she said.

She also claims that Harris repeatedly made late night visits to the Simply Hope house in which she was staying.

"He did come in my room often, at a point where it did make me uncomfortable," she said.

While she was staying at Simply Hope, Giamportone said Harris began threatening her when he learned she was seeing another man.

"He would tell me if you don't stay away from men then I will recommend to the judge that you go back to prison for 7 years," she said.

Giamportone admits she used drugs while she was in the Simply Hope rehab program.

She was sent to a detox center called Turning Point.

Giamportone says it was the telephone conversations with Harris that convinced her to run.

"It was the phone calls, where I had to check in with him and he would say, 'Is today the day we're going to have sex?' I knew it wouldn't stop," she said.

In early 2008, she ran from Harris, Florida and hasn't been back since.

Giamportone regrets not speaking up in 2008, but claims she was afraid she would be sent back to jail.

"It's my word against his, I'm the addict in the facility and he's the director, so I didn't know what they were going to believe or anybody would believe at that time," she said.

Andrea Giamportone is not the first woman to run from the Simply Hope drug rehab program.

29-year-old Korrine Burdick fled from Simply Hope in 2009. Records show she told her probation officer that Harris propositioned her.

"He's well, I know I'm in control here and basically, what I say goes and you can either give me what I want or you can go to prison," Burdick said.

Probation records raise a question about whether Burdick ever recanted her story. She states she never did.

In August, another Simply Hope client, 27-year-old Jetta Deitchman, informed her probation officer of an incident that occurred in March involving Harris.  Deitchman ran from the program shortly afterward.  Her attorney, Roger Futerman, says she is a victim of sexual abuse and is cooperating with law enforcement in an ongoing criminal investigation involving Harris.

All of these women were sent to Simply Hope by Pinellas judges in an effort to get them off drugs and avoid prison time.  Running from the program meant they violated their probation and could face probable prison time.

Giamportone fled Florida and is still on the run.

"It's horrible, you're constantly looking over your shoulder," she said.

Former Simply Hope administrator Teresa Croyle was also Harris' former fiancee. Croyle claims that in January she discovered on Harris' cell phone inappropriate texts between Harris and several former and current female clients.

"I called the drug court manager and I spoke my beans about everything.  I told him about what I found in Ray's phone in January," Croyle said. "As far as I know there was no investigation done."

The sheriff's office has confirmed a criminal investigation involving Ray Harris is ongoing.

Harris has refused comment.

Harris' attorney Denis DeVlaming says his client did have a meeting last week with two Pinellas County detectives. The meeting lasted about an hour.

DeVlaming says the detectives went over some documentation to establish Mr. Harris' position, and both he and Harris offered their continued cooperation with law enforcement.

The Pinellas drug court has suspended sending female clients to Simply Hope at least until the investigation is finished.

Public Defender Bob Dillinger confirmed his office removed any female clients it was paying to house at Simply Hope.

Andrea Giamportone is watching from a distance, wishing for many reasons she had stepped forward five years ago.

"I do apologize to all the other women who had to go through this and maybe if I had come forward sooner, it wouldn't have happened to them," Giamportone said.

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