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Tampa Bay drug treatment nonprofit nets $1M a year selling desserts, denies clients are 'pushed too hard'

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AVON PARK, Fla. (WFLA) – The Hogar RESA sales team works parking lots around the Tampa Bay area, asking for donations for their homemade flans and pound cakes.

It adds up to about $1 million in cash transactions a year, according to Hogar RESA Pastor Eduardo Lebron. Lebron touts the nonprofit’s religious-based drug treatment philosophy that includes “sales” as part of the 16-month residential program.

“We have many success stories,” Lebron said through a translator.

But more than a dozen former residents claim Hogar RESA “pushed too hard” and valued sales over treatment. Jose Lopez said the pace pushed him away from recovery.

“It was difficult to be able to control my addictions because that constant pressure of having to sell cakes everyday,” Lopez said. “We’d get screamed at if we didn’t sell the cakes.”

Ricardo Garcia said the pressure did not help him stay sober.

“It was like a work camp. There was no therapy involved,” Garcia said. “It was sell, sell, sell.”

Through a translator, Labron said “many individuals don’t want to move forward” when the work is difficult but he denied there is “too much” pressure to sell. He acknowledged selling the baked goods is vital for the nonprofit keeping its doors open.

Former residents and employees also claim there is no way to examine how Hogar RESA spends its donations because the organization has not filed a tax return since it was first recognized as a nonprofit by the Internal Revenue Service in 2014.

Hogar RESA Sub-Director Carmen Zelaya said she filed what is known as Form 990 for the 2021 tax year. The IRS website does not indicate a Hogar RESA return has been received by the agency since 2014.

One former employee who asked not to be identified said they filed a complaint with the IRS about Hogar RESA.

Hogar RESA resident Monica Rivera said the organization is not worried about releasing its financial information on the 990.

“Everything is kind of under a microscope,” Rivera said. “Everything is set in place because there’s absolutely nothing we have to hide.”

The IRS would neither confirm nor deny that a complaint about Hogar RESA was received by the agency.

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