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Detroit Lakes group homes where alleged rapes occurred say all workers undergo background checks

According to an investigation memorandum, one of the alleged rapes happened at 920 Summit Ave., which is a group home operated by Lakes Homes and Program Development in Detroit Lakes. (Meagan Pittelko/Forum News Service)1 / 2
Lakes Homes and Program Development provides adult foster care to roughly 20 different homes around Detroit Lakes, Mahnomen and Fergus Falls. An alleged rape occurred at one of the homes in Detroit Lakes. (Meagan Pittelko/Forum News Service) 2 / 2

DETROIT LAKES, Minn.—Two former employees accused of raping a vulnerable woman in incidents that allegedly occurred at two different Lakes Homes and Program Development group homes for developmentally disabled people in Detroit Lakes had undergone background checks, said the company this past week.

The two men are 39-year-old Jallah Sallah Kollie of West Fargo and 30-year-old Varfee Kamara of Fargo. Both face felony rapes charges in Becker County District Court.

"We had done a background study prior to their employment and they passed the background study," said Lakes Homes Executive Director Tom Reiffenberger. "We had no information to believe there was an issue with them."

He said all workers at numerous homes operated by the company undergo the checks prior to being hired. Lakes Homes provides adult foster care to roughly 20 different homes around Detroit Lakes, Mahnomen and Fergus Falls.

Varfee had worked for Lakes Homes only a few months, and Kollie for less than a year, he said.

Reiffenberger said an earlier report incorrectly stated that Lakes Homes failed to do background checks on employees.

It's true that Lakes Homes had been cited once by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which regulates group homes, for not running a background check on an employee, but that incident did not involve Kollie or Kamara, he said. Rather it involved an employee who got married, changed their name, and failed to undergo a new background check under the new name.

A background check is required by the state for all group home applicants, and the state conducts the study, then provides the results to the group home operator prior to an applicant being hired, Reiffenberger said.

On Jan. 6, DHS issued its findings to Reiffenberger, that stated the company "did not comply with background study requirements" in that case as is required by state law. Lakes Homes is being fined $200 for the violation.

According to the investigation memorandum filed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, one of the alleged rapes happened at a Lakes Home group home at 920 Summit Ave.

The employee in question, Kollie, of 219 Second Ave. W., West Fargo, was charged in Becker County District Court with felony counts of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct — victim mentally impaired. He remains in the Todd County Jail.

Authorities responded to the group home on Sept. 13 after another employee reported walking in on Kollie and the victim, who was naked, in the bathroom. According to the DHS report, the victim is a vulnerable adult who has a "lack of understanding of sexuality" but is somebody "who does not need assistance in personal hygiene care." The report states that when the other employee saw blood on the victim's buttocks, they told Kollie to leave and began questioning the victim on what had happened. The victim explained in graphic, childlike detail of an assault that involved raping several parts of her body and that after she told him to "get out of here", Kollie told her to "shut up" and just "be touched".

Kollie denied having any sexual contact with the victim, but authorities say a sexual assault kit administered at the hospital points to him.

The location of the second alleged rape was at 405 E. North Street in Detroit Lakes, which is a group home also run by Lakes Homes. The alleged victim in the case resided at "The Willow Home" at the time, but was part of a cleaning crew with the suspect, Kamara, of 2602 18th St. S., Fargo. He has been charged in Becker County District Court with felony counts of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct — victim mentally impaired. This incident reportedly occurred June 17 when, according to the the complaint filed in Becker County District Court, he allegedly followed the mentally impaired woman into a bathroom at the group home and sexually assaulted her.

The DHS report in this cases stated the vulnerable adult was "likely to seek or cooperate in an abusive situation" and that she had a history of past sexual abuse. The report indicated that both the victim and Kamara testified that the vulnerable adult instigated the sexual situation, but it also states staff is prohibited from any sexual contact with residents. Kamara denied any contact with the woman, but a sexual assault kit allegedly pointed to him as the perpetrator.

Kamara was in trouble with the law at least three times after the date of the alleged rape. He was arrested by a Hawley police officer after being clocked driving over 100 mph west on Highway 10. He was arrested in Fargo with a group of other men caught stealing from parked cars..

Reiffenberger said the two accused men do not represent the excellent employees at Lakes Homes. "We believe we do a very good service, we try hard and we have very good employees," Reiffenberger said. "We do a very good job with training ... it's a bad situation and we understand that, but that's not what Lakes Homes is all about."

This isn't the first time Lakes Homes has been in the news. According to a story filed by MPR News, a state investigation into the death of a vulnerable adult in Detroit Lakes found that the facility, Lakes Homes, failed to perform CPR when staff found the resident unresponsive in March of 2016. The MPR report states that in an interview with management, the staff said one of them told the other not to perform CPR because the vulnerable adult was already "not alive" and was "already gone."

He was not deceased at that point, however, and died at a hospital shortly after the incident.

Investigators in that case found evidence of neglect and that nursing staff "always waited too long" to get medical help for that resident, who staff said was curled up in a ball in pain on the floor in the hour prior to his death.

The MPR report goes on to say that in August of 2015, the state issued another investigative memorandum for Lakes Homes, which found neglect and maltreatment in response to another death in one of its homes.

According to MPR, "In that incident, staff took the vulnerable adult to a picnic and saw the vulnerable adult appeared sweaty, pale and gray. Staff took the person back to the group home then to the emergency room where the vulnerable adult was pronounced dead. That investigation determined staff knew the resident was severely ill prior to the death and neglected to seek medical attention immediately."