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Former president of Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services found dead

Michael Bernstein, who resigned as president of Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services this month, has been found dead in a Georgia motel room, in an apparent suicide.

Bernstein's body was discovered Wednesday at a Super 8 in Valdosta. Authorities there said Bernstein, 57, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

"We have been made aware of the death of Michael Bernstein who served our organization for 31 years," chairman David Abelson said Monday in a statement.

"We are shocked and saddened to learn this news. We will always be grateful for his vision for Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services and for the lives of approximately 30,000 clients served annually under his direction."

On Oct. 14, Gulf Coast announced Bernstein's resignation after three decades as the head of the organization, one of the bay area's largest nonprofit social welfare agencies.

The departure followed revelations about a contract the nonprofit had with the state Department of Education to place mentally and physically disabled people in jobs.

According to state regulators, Bernstein contacted them in late March or early April to say an internal review had found problems in Gulf Coast's handling of the contract.

The state then reviewed Gulf Coast's performance between January 2008 and early June.

The state looked at Gulf Coast's operations in three regions. One includes Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee and Sarasota counties; the other two are in South Florida.

Investigators found that, in some instances, Gulf Coast had billed the state for having found jobs for clients but produced inadequate evidence the placements had occurred.

It also found that Gulf Coast placed some clients in jobs that the state had determined would not be appropriate for them.

Gulf Coast was ordered to repay $132,000 to the state, which it did in mid September.

State officials said most of the problems had occurred in South Florida. The review turned up no evidence of illegal activity, though the state said that possibility could not be ruled out.

The Department of Education terminated the contract with Gulf Coast on Oct. 14. A spokeswoman for the nonprofit, Lisa Brock, said the contract was worth about $1.2 million.

Gulf Coast has about 700 employees working in 32 counties across Florida, including the bay area. It reported revenue of nearly $33 million in 2007, the last year for which federal records are available.

Brock said an internal inquiry had found no evidence that Bern­stein had been involved in any questionable activity.

Bernstein was divorced and has two college-age daughters.

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4166.

Former president of Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services found dead 10/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 26, 2009 10:02pm]
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