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CFO Atwater stops payment for funeral costs for teen who died in DJJ custody in Palm Beach County

by Dara Kam | July 29th, 2011

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s office has blocked a payment to cover the costs of the funeral of Eric Perez, the 18-year-old who died while in state custody in a Palm Beach County juvenile detention facility on July 10.

The Department of Juvenile Justice had promised to pay $5,000 towards the cost of Perez’ funeral, as it has done twice before in the past two years.

Atwater, in charge of the state’s check book, had gone so far as to print a $5,000 check for Tillman Funeral Home in West Palm Beach on July 13.

But before DJJ officials released it to the funeral home, Atwater’s office asked that the money be returned.

“Since the agency does not have statutory authority to make the payment, we are requesting a warrant cancellation for the following vendor payment,” Mark Merry, head of the Department of Financial Services auditing department, wrote to DJJ in an e-mail on Tuesday.

DJJ has had a policy of paying up to $5,000 towards funeral costs for children who die in their custody since 2008, department spokesman C.J. Drake said. Since then, the department has twice paid families the maximum amount – once in November 2008 and again in January 2009.

Discussions are now underway between the two agencies about how the payment can be made, Drake said.

“So far everyone’s been very cooperative and agreeable. We just have to resolve it. I’m confident that we’re going to make the payment,” he said.

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