House candidate Roger Lolly gave $84,000 from special-needs student payments to friend who started a restaurant in Tennessee

by | Jul 6, 2020


On federal tax documents, Florida corporation filings, and even current social media accounts, Reuben Sliva is listed as the Vice President of Operations for the Fort Myers-based If I Can Dream Foundation, a charity whose sole source of income is a government grant to provide vocational training to special needs students.

According to federal tax records from 2018, Sliva was paid $84,000 by the foundation, ostensibly for his work with the special needs community. But newspaper accounts, business records and social media posts show that while Sliva collected the lucrative charity paychecks, he spent most of his time planning, setting up, and opening a restaurant in Franklin, Tennessee.

Sliva’s role at the foundation is now under scrutiny because his paychecks are signed by Roger Lolly, the founder and president of the If I Can Dream Foundation, who is facing criticism for, among other things, loaning his own political campaign at least $100,000 while collecting an unusually high salary from his charity. Lolly paid himself more than $187,000 each of the last two years, an amount more than twice as high as similar charities doing the same work in other Florida communities.

Lolly’s foundation has only a single source of income: a contract awarded through the Florida Department of Education to provide vocational training to students with disabilities. The program’s funding comes from the federal government and a state matching grant. In 2018, the contract paid Lolly’s organization $540,000 to provide approximately 50 hours of training to 181 students. Because the funding is administered through the state, Lolly’s contract explicitly states that his organization is subject to Florida’s public records laws, which allow anyone to view emails, contracts, invoices and other businesses pertaining to the program.

But Lolly has so far refused to answer questions about the large salary paid to Sliva, who by late 2017 was already planning to open his new restaurant in Tennessee, called Franklin Soul. By January of 2018, Sliva was looking for employees. The restaurant closed less than a year after opening, and since that time, Sliva has focused his efforts on building a construction company, Tennessee business records show.

Reached by telephone on a construction site in Franklin on Thursday, Sliva claimed to have done charity work through the foundation on behalf of the state of Tennessee, but hung up the phone after being asked for details. The Capitolist was later able to independently confirmed from Tennessee’s Human Services Department that the charity provided less than $4,000 in vocational rehabilitation services to the state. The organization was approved to provide services in 2019, but is not approved to provide services in 2020 [Note: an earlier version of this story stated that calls and emails to the State of Tennessee found no evidence that the If I Can Dream Foundation provided any services to the state. A Tennessee Human Services spokesperson later provided the additional details included above]. It’s not clear how Sliva could have provided services to Florida special needs students while running a restaurant in a different state.

Tax records that might reveal Sliva’s charity salary for 2019 and 2020 are not yet available, but Sliva is still listed as the foundation’s director of operations on the charity’s website, and on several other official records.

Sliva and Lolly are also connected through Fort Myers real estate entrepreneur Randy Krise, a major donor to Lolly’s campaign for state representative. Krise is married to Sliva’s mother, who was part-owner in a previous restaurant venture in Fort Myers, the well-known Reuben’s Smokehouse, which was sold in 2016 and went out of business a short while later. It is not known if Krise also received payments from Lolly.

The foundation’s 2018 federal tax forms show that salaries paid to Lolly and Sliva totaled $274,221, but more than $336,000 was paid out in executive compensation that year. Of that, $2,800 went to Sliva’s wife, Erin Sliva, who also lives in Tennessee. It’s not clear who received the remaining $60,000 in payments.

Like Lolly and Sliva, Krise refused to respond to questions from The Capitolist about his role with the organization or any payments he may have received in the form of office rent or speaking fees. At one point Krise’s real estate business was housed in the same office building as Lolly’s foundation.

For 2020, Lolly and Sliva were awarded a $1.7 million contract approved by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to provide vocational training to special needs students.  Emails to Corcoran seeking comment about the payments to Lolly and Sliva were not immediately returned.

 

 

21 Comments

  1. Justin

    This just doesn’t seem right. High salaries and very little money going to the needy kids the program was supposed to help.

    Reply
  2. Arvey Krise

    They need to get their facts straight!
    This is not a grant. This is not a charity. It is a business like Goodwill and Larc. I know this company, my husband volunteers as a business coach for these special kids! They have a contract with the state and are paid per student the same contracted rate as Goodwill and Larc…same exact contract. They are not paid until after they deliver the services they are hired to do just like a contractor. When they are paid AFTER they provide the services, they pay all of their expenses including the certified school teachers they hire, rent, food (they provide meals to the students), utilities, insurance, management, etc. This is not their only business. They find jobs for disabled people who can’t find jobs because of their disability, like the gentleman who had a terrible speech impediment and had to live with his parents because of no job. Imagine how they changed his life and boosted his self-esteem! They also provide in-home care services for families who need help taking care of a disabled family member.
    They have an innovative program, approved by the state, where they pay these special needs students a “paycheck” for perfect attendance, since the classes are to teach them how to get a job, do an interview, dress appropriately, and keep a job. They do a mock interview at the end of the classes & the students have to dress the part. They encourage the students to use their paycheck they are so proud of to buy clothes to interview in and wear to work. They also diligently follow up with them. They do not turn down ANY students and have approximately 500 a year but only get paid for 200-300. It’s a well- organized structured program by Roger Lolly, so well run it’s used as a role model for other programs. They are audited regularly by the state.

    This is a political hit job with lies and distortions paid for by Jenna Persons, because Roger Lolly is her opponent for State Rep. She has issues with her reputation so she is trying to discredit him by destroying him, his five children and wife, an elementary school teacher, and a business that does wonderful things above and beyond to help special needs children who love them.
    But Jenna has it backwards! Roger doesn’t take money from special needs kids. He is the ONLY one who provides this service when GIVES money to the kids! Money he doesn’t charge the state for!
    Roger has a perfect reputation and does tremendous philanthropical work. He started Hoops for Hope at Buckingham Exceptional Students School. Ask them about Roger Lolly. There’s many more. Too bad she can’t run on her own merit. Maybe because it didn’t work in the last election she lost.

    Reply
    • Margaret

      I have a disability.

      Reply
  3. Karen

    Roger and Reuben and their joke of a fraud foundation should be shut down!! From personal experience of their lack of professionalism, follow through with students and families and sheer disorganization, no one should ever step foot near them. Roger puts on a front. Ask any of his previous employees he’s “hired” to teach his classes. He doesn’t background check them and as long as they’re breathing, they’re allowed to teach the class with little to NO SUPPORT from Roger.

    They are on some serious damage control asking anyone who shared or commented on this or the previous post to remove it. Ha. Truth is coming out loud and proud from what many of us have known for years and it fell upon deaf ears. Shame on you all!!!! Stealing and disgusting acts!!!

    Reply
  4. Pete

    Nearly 200,000 a year for a salary…I don’t see anyone at Goodwill or Lark making that kind of money…and they do the same thing-just like someone mentioned in the comments (also full of crap). Even the president of Lark doesn’t make that much and they’ve been serving the community for decades. Roger, you’re a sick man.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Pete or whoever you really are. They both are paid the same amount per student. How they manage the income after the bills are paid us their business. Interesting IP address…hmmmm. Both of you.

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Not to mention the equipment stolen from Lee County Schools to front his foundation!!!!

    Reply
  7. Latonia

    My heart is broken. This is why america is so broken. Nobody ever tells the story straight. Just always trying to make people look bad.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    That’sa totally false accusation !!!

    Reply
  9. Nick A.

    Facts people. Not lies…spoken from MY DAUGHTER and her fellow classmates who did not get the services from this foundation that they were promised. Baahhhh little sheep.

    Reply
  10. Beatriz Martinez-Claib

    Take them to court!

    Reply
  11. Anonymous

    stop sending me this

    Reply
  12. Brian Burgess

    Arvey – thanks for your attempt at clarification. Unfortunately, many of your “facts”…aren’t actually facts. I gave Roger Lolly an opportunity to explain his salary payments, both to himself and to your son, Reuben.

    Both declined the opportunity.

    As for your claim that Roger trains 500 kids but only gets paid by the state for 200-300, that’s simply not true according to state records and Roger’s own words. In 2018, for example, he trained 181 students that were approved by the state. He said in an email he trained a little over 200 actual students, some simply weren’t authorized for payment because they didn’t qualify.

    That’s a far cry from 500 students you are claiming.

    Reply
  13. Brian Burgess

    To the anonymous commenter claiming to see another commenter’s “IP address,” give it a rest. Nobody can see another commenter’s IP on this site.

    Why the lie?

    Reply
  14. Lisa Skinner

    Brian Burgess, am I to assume that you were paid to write these pieces that are an attempt to discredit a worthy foundation? I find it quite ironic that many of those supporting your political agenda choose to use only their first names. I think the failure to disclose their identity is an act of cowardice.

    I do support Roger Lolly. More importantly, I support the young adults who have chosen to be a part of these camps. Perhaps, you should listen to their voices before you sling the next stone.

    Reply
  15. Lisa Skinner

    Karen, I find your comment confusing as I had to be fingerprinted before I could be an instructor at the camps. I have nothing to hide, so I willingly obliged in order to be a part of this foundation and to have the opportunity to teach these young adults and to learn from them as well.

    Reply
  16. Anonymous

    Want facts? No one I have referred got any help from this company, Now I know where all the money was going

    Reply
  17. Linda Hoyt

    I have worked with developmentally disabled adults for over 20 years in many capacities (paraprofessional, Waiver Support Coordinator, Human Services Consultant, Direct Care Provider, Supported Employment Trainor & Community Resource Consultant). I believe additional investigation is required to determine if services were fraudulently billed. Having worked for agencies funded by State & Federal programs I do know that if there is not any documentation to verify the services occurred under the set guidelines, then the services never happened; fraudulent practices occurred. The clients are the ones that suffered at the hands of “unscrupulous providers”.

    Reply
  18. Bill P.

    Has there been any legal actions taken for these accusations? I’m trying to figure out who is the best candidate in this race and until there is a real complaint filed by an end user or by the government, then it’s only accusations. We have to respect our laws that one is innocent until proven guilty. Thanks for posting this.

    Reply
  19. Al from fort myers

    Bill P.

    This is clearly an attack from the candidates opposition. I too was interested and looked up this publication. It’s a political blog paid to put out negative articles. It also appears the comments may be fake as well. Happy voting

    Reply
  20. Joan Hurley

    Although it seems to have been instigated by the opposition, the article is factual. You can easily verify this; the foundation’s 990s are public information, available online.

    Reply

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