Breaking Free 'keeper of secrets' speaks up about Jerry's Place closing

Jerry's Place, on the east side of St. Paul, opened back in October as a shelter for teen girls escaping prostitution as part of the new safe harbor program. But 10 days ago, Breaking Free announced it would be shutting down Jerry's Place over vague explanations about funding and red tape.

Now, for the first time, two former employees are coming forward to say there's more to the story.

Lynn Jasperson calls herself the "keeper of secrets" at Breaking Free. The former human resources manager was fired last month. She says Breaking Free director Vendita Carter shut down Jerry's Place because the Department of Human Services was asking too many questions.

"Too many eyes would've been on the organization, didn't want to open up the books. The directors of the program don't even have access to the books, they come to me," Jasperson said.

Heidi Carlson was the former director of youth programs at Breaking Free until she was fired in October.

"In order to get money, you had to give a lot of documentation to DHS they didn't want to give. They didn't want to have that level of scrutiny," she said.

A total of 14 staff members have left Breaking Free in the last year and a half. Carter's relatives, however, seemed to stay. The whistleblowers say at least 8 of the 32 staff members are related to Carter, some of them living rent-free in Breaking Free facilities.

After Fox 9 spoke to Carter over the phone on Thursday, she wouldn't directly address any of these allegations. When asked directly how many of her relatives work for Breaking Free or live at the Breaking Free facilities, she said she wouldn't discuss human resources matters.

The whistleblowers also say there's little training for staff, most of whom were former clients who left a life of prostitution. They claim that transition happens too quickly. Jasperson was one of those former clients. She says Breaking Free saved her from prostitution, addiction and homelessness, and she worries she may end up back on the street.

"It takes time to heal, and If you don't have lines, they get blurred, and they stay blurred," Jasperson said. "All I could think of was my family, and I didn't want to lose my job, because I didn't want my family to be homeless."