Van drivers admit sexual relations with special needs women on the way to therapy
A 38-year-old woman and her mother explain to FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis what happened on a Medicaid-funded van as it transported mentally challenged women to outpatient therapy.
CUMMING, Ga. - Two van drivers admit having sexual contact with two mentally challenged women they were taking to therapy, yet Georgia authorities say they still could not prosecute.
The women involved were adults, but their guardians say each has the mind of an underage teen.
The sexual activity took place in Forsyth and Dawson Counties. Because no legal action was taken, the FOX 5 I-Team is not naming the two men. We're also not naming the two women because of their special needs status.
Medicaid provides free transportation to medical appointments for low-income people or the disabled. The rules say van drivers are only allowed to touch the clients -- known as members -- if they need help getting on or off the bus. Two drivers admitted to investigators they did a lot more than that.
"I thought he was my boyfriend because he said I was beautiful," one woman remembered. She's 38 years old but has the voice of a child.
"Did he tell you to keep any secrets?" I asked.
"Yeah, he told me... he gave me his number and he told me to put it under a girl's name and he told me not to tell."
This was in 2013. Her mother became suspicious when the van would pick up her daughter hours earlier than usual for her mental health counseling appointments and bring her home hours late.
“I knew something was up because I knew it wasn't right," said her mother.
In 2013, that mom filed a complaint with Southeastrans, the broker that coordinates all independently-owned van providers for Medicaid services in north Georgia.
According to that complaint, a driver for one of the subcontractors was "making passes” at her “mentally challenged” daughter, at that time 34 years old.
Eventually, the Southeastrans sub-contractor removed that driver from her route. But two years later, another female passenger on that same route accused a different driver of having sex with her. And that woman's guardian called the Forsyth County Sheriff's Department.
In a police interview, that second woman drew maps for investigators of where she said the driver would park the van so he could kiss and fondle her... detailing how she even sneaked out of her house with his help.
“I spent the whole weekend with him without my meds," said the second woman who was 20 years old at the time of the incident. "And I had sex with him. I wish I wasn't a person who could be easily taken advantage. I wish I knew the warning signs."
During her case, investigators learned about the earlier 2013 incident and asked that woman to tell them more.
She wrote out a six-page statement, for the first time detailing how that driver had sex with her in the Medicaid van. “We've been going to that same spot for a long time until he said there is a cop park there now and we stoped going there.”
Why did she keep what happened a secret for so long?
“I didn't want to get anybody in trouble," she told me.
She need not have worried. Forsyth County investigators eventually tracked down both drivers, both admitting having some sort of sexual contact with the two passengers, although not to the extent the women claimed. The case was finally closed this summer. No charges will be filed.
Both women were of the age of legal consent. Both told investigators they welcomed the affection from the drivers.
Because the van drivers held no supervisory control over the women, and they were being treated at an outpatient facility with no connection to the van service, Forsyth County DA Penny Penn said even though she was bothered by what happened, she could find no law broken.
“They had special needs or disabilities that made them vulnerable to the attention of these two men," she stressed. “The investigators were bothered by the behavior of these men but there just didn't seem to be a statute that fit their behavior.”
But something else also bothered the guardians for the two women.
Each complained to Southeastrans about what happened to their daughters. Yet Southeastrans failed to include those on the required monthly complaint reports to the state agency that manages Medicaid.
Plenty of complaints about drivers being late in the three years of reports we reviewed. No complaints about drivers having inappropriate relationships with the mentally challenged clients they were taking to therapy.
“Of all different kind of complaints, when you get a sexual complaint that's serious," argued the mother of the first woman.
In a statement, Southeastrans asserted it has the right to decide what should be reported to the state and determined the first complaint did not qualify because of "a perceived lack of evidence" among other things. The company declined to explain why the second complaint -- the one that generated a full-blown criminal investigation -- was also left out of the monthly complaint reports. Or why they chose to send other invalid complaints to the state but not these.
The Georgia Department of Community Health responded to our investigation with this statement:
"DCH takes any allegations of misconduct seriously and Section 300.17 Complaints of the Non-Emergency Transportation (NET) Broker Program policies outlines the responsibility of the NET Broker to report complaints to DCH. DCH is not aware the allegations you cite. If the allegations you presented are true, it is not acceptable. DCH reviews NET policies on a quarterly basis to address ambiguity and further strengthen our process. DCH will continue this process."
The two moms want security cameras installed on all Medicaid vans, to protect their daughters from those who might see them in a different light than they do.
“She thinks everybody's trusting," the first mom lamented. "EVERYBODY'S trusting. And she doesn't see the picture of who's being nice, who's not. I want to know when she gets on that bus that she's ok. I don't have to sit and worry.”