GEO Group, a private prison company based in Boca Raton, in the past has fielded sharp criticism for the alleged rough treatment of inmates and detainees at the prisons and immigration centers it managed.
In recent months, however, this company met its match: Retirees, disabled individuals and the general public at large.
According to a lawsuit filed by the company, GEO Group employees “were in fear for their safety” from visitors to the Social Security Administration’s office at One Park Place, where GEO Group has maintains its headquarters since 2003.
The SSA opened an office at One Park Place, 621 N.W. 53 Street, in February 2014. Soon after, GEO Group, which has been hit with allegations of overcrowding at its private prisons, got a taste of what overcrowding feels like.
Hundreds of visitors to SSA began to crowd the parking lot, garages and lobby. At one point, GEO Group counted 825 SSA visitors to the building in one day.
Not all the visitors were pleasant, GEO alleged in a December 2014 Palm Beach County Circuit Court lawsuit against its landlord, Canpro Investments Ltd. According to the lawsuit, the SSA visitors were “harassing GEO’s employees, using profanity, proposition GEO’s employees for dates…and continually asking to use GEO’s phones.”
In addition, issues with drugs and weapons, including a Taser and knife, made GEO “extremely concerned about the safety of its employees and invitees to the building,” court records show.
As a result, GEO Group wanted out of its lease, which required it to pay $350,000 a month for 100,000 square feet of space.
GEO Group is a major corporate citizen in Boca Raton. It employs 300 in Boca Raton and 18,000 worldwide, operating correctional and detention facilities, plus mental health treatment centers.
Although the company’s sign is prominently seen on One Park Place’s building from Interstate 95, GEO Group mostly has kept a low-profile locally.
In 2013, however, that changed when GEO Group offered Florida Atlantic University $6 million for naming rights to its football stadium. GEO Group chairman George Zoley is an FAU graduate.
But protests from students and faculty over the condition of — and alleged human rights abuses at — GEO Group’s private prisons and immigration centers throughout the country killed the deal.
Things settled down for GEO Group in 2014, but then the Social Security Administration moved into the building early that year.
Canpro denied GEO Group’s allegations in court documents. But Canpro lodged similar accusations in its own lawsuit against the U.S. government, and more particularly, the General Services Administration, the federal branch that manages government agencies including the Social Security Administration.
In its lawsuit, Canpro echoed GEO Group’s complaints that SSA’s visitors were a disruptive lot.
Canpro said it agreed to space lease to SSA, with the understanding there would be no more than 250 visitors per day. But more people showed up than that, especially after SSA closed offices in West Palm Beach and Delray Beach. SSA visitors were forced to either visit the Boca Raton office or one in Belle Glade.
Visits to the Boca Raton office have declined a little since a temporary West Palm Beach office was opened in June, but daily visitors still reach into the hundreds.
Canpro complained that other potential office tenants now shy away from the property, which no longer is viewed as a quiet, professional Class A office.
Canpro’s lawsuit sought to break the SSA lease, but the U.S. District Court of Federal Claims judge rejected the lawsuit on a technicality. After a reporter began making inquiries late last month, GEO Group’s lawsuit against Canpro was resolved.
“It was happenstance,” Robert Critton, GEO Group’s West Palm Beach attorney, said of the timing. Critton didn’t divulge details of the settlement because the resolution is confidential.
Canpro attorney Michael Rothman also confirmed the lawsuit with GEO Group was settled.