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'Walked into a kid smoking a blunt': New recording shows lack of oversight at Phoenix group home

Amelia Lopez says she worked for North Star since 2015. She believes as the company grew, problems began.

PHOENIX — In May of this year, Amelia Lopez told 12News she went into a meeting with North Star Independent Living Services CEO Tom Delehanty. She said human resources was not going to be present, so she decided to record the meeting for her own protection. 

The meeting was to discuss Lopez's position with the company she had worked at since 2015. She said she started working for North Star about a month after the company launched. What was said during that recorded meeting is part of the reason why she decided to ultimately quit.

Recording shows DCS witnessed drug use in group home

In the recorded conversation, Delehanty was recalling a recent licensing walk-through with the Department of Child Safety which licenses North Star. She said they were inspecting North Star's facility on Mountain View Road.

"Brenda walked in when we were doing the checks. She walked into a kid smoking a blunt," Delehanty said.

Delehanty referenced a DCS employee named Brenda who, according to the recording, witnessed a resident doing drugs. The facility houses teen boys in foster care between the age of 16 and 20.

"Cheech and Chong, it's like smoke coming out. You can’t make it up. But we got our license," Delehanty said.

Lopez said Delehanty stated in addition to the DCS employee witnessing the drug use, they also disclosed they had found a resident in possession of a gun clip the night before.

“She was like, ‘Good job.’ She didn’t even mark it as a deficiency because we disclosed it and we found it from our searches. And the drugs? She said she understands that happens," Delehanty said.

Lopez has not been able to shake that meeting. She said she's disturbed by both the CEO's reaction and the lack of enforcement by DCS.

“Tom said it happily. And we still got licensed," Lopez said. “I put the same blame on DCS as I would put on North Star.”

A spokesperson for North Star, Josh Weiss, declined to make Delehanty or the owners, Thurston Jennings and Adam Titus, available for interviews. He sent a statement about the recording, saying:

"The example you shared only further proves that North Star is being proactive in its efforts to remove contraband and is properly reporting all incidents to DCS and to the resident's case manager as required."

“You can't see these kids as a dollar sign. They are human beings."

Lopez spoke out in light of the recent tragedy at the Mountain View facility. On August 29, police found nine guns in one room at the facility, and less than three days later, police say a resident shot and killed another.

RELATED: Guns, drugs, ammo found in Phoenix group home days before resident fatally shot

“It could have been avoided. You know, there were so many signs," Lopez said.

Lopez said North Star used to have a strong program to help foster kids but worries as the company grew, problems began. North Star now has five group homes across the state.

RELATED: Group home resident shot, killed in Phoenix, suspect detained

“You start having the issues with drugs coming on campus," Lopez said. "Most of those kids are not in school."

Lopez said the residents in North Star's care are not safe and hopes changes are made immediately.

“You can't see these kids as a dollar sign. They are human beings," Lopez said. "If they were taken out of their home because there wasn't that structure and that proper care, then they should be taken out of North Star. And I don't understand and see how DCS does not see that."

DCS has declined all of 12News' interview requests, citing an ongoing investigation.

On Friday, the City of Phoenix Neighborhood Services Department inspected the Mountain View group home and found the property does not possess the required use permit to operate a group home. A spokesperson said a formal 15-day notice of violation was served to the owners on Monday. 

RELATED: Group home where teen resident was shot and killed doesn't have required permit, Phoenix city officials say

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