The website for Simply Hope, Inc., promises a transitional housing program serving adults recovering from substance abuse. Through grant money, the company was able to expand into Pasco County in 2010.
It was awarded a 300 Club Grant through the court system which provides more than $35,000 a year from 2010-2013. It became qualified housing for the Jail Diversion Program and received additional support through the Pinellas County Public Defenders Office, members of the Pinellas Ex-Offender Reentry Coalition and co-chairs of the Coalition Housing Committee.
For the CEO of Simply Hope, Ray Harris, the program also granted him an opportunity to exert his influence over vulnerable young women caught up in the Pinellas County Drug Court Program. Over the years, hundreds of these women were required to live at the Simply Hope transitional houses. Ray Harris has a checkered past. He is a former drug addict with felony convictions, including a crime of dishonesty for grand theft.
One of the biggest supports of the Ray Harris and his company, Simply Hope, Inc., was Judge Dee Anna Farnell. In her courtroom, the progress reports from Ray Harris carried great weight. His allegations would send a women to prison for a long time. Anyone who dared to contradict his allegations faced the consequences.
Now dozens of these women have come forward to alleged sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of Ray Harris dating back to 2007. Those women might risk a hefty prison sentence for complaining except for the fact that one woman was able to record the misconduct on her cell phone.
In the recording you can clearly hear Ray Harris kissing her. She avoids further sexual contact by telling him that she doesn't feel well and asks for a pass. The recording suggests that Ray Harris knows he can get what he wants with women he supervises in the program.
The media has found at least one instances showing a woman in the program reported the abuse to their probation officer, even as early as 2010. For years, nothing was done. The recording on the cell phone leaves little doubt about Ray Harris' intentions.
The local media is reporting that so far, Judge Farnell is not commenting on the allegations. Although no more referrals are being made to Simply Hope, Inc., the court has been slow to act. Drug Court participants are still in the program. After the phone recording surfaced, the Public Defender's Office didn't hesitate to pull female clients it represents out of the program.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has opened an investigation into two of the complaints. It forwarded its findings to the State Attorney's Office in Pinellas County to determine whether charges should be filed against Ray Harris.