ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The owners of a production stand in Southern St. Petersburg are bringing federal government officials to court. The lawsuit could impact hundreds of people in Pinellas County without access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
St. Petersburg leaders continue to struggle to find a new tenant at Tangerine Plaza in central St. Petersburg. It is here that both a Sweetbay and a Walmart Neighborhood Market close their doors, leaving a food desert for people in South St. Pete. The closest grocery store is located about two miles away.
Dorian and Maria Speaker have found their solution to help the community. They opened a corner garden product market a few steps from their moving company office at 2300 4th Avenue South.
The couple came up with the idea after their vegetarian daughter Makenzie complained to them about the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables within walking distance of her parents’ office.
They opened the product market in January 2019. However, they quickly realized they had a problem.
Most customers rely on meal vouchers or SNAPs to pay for products.
The couple asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to accept EBT cards, but within a few months they received a letter denying their request.
The reason: a crime on Dorian Speaker’s record 19 years ago, when officers accused him of resisting arrest without violence.
“Just because you make a mistake when you’re a teenager doesn’t make you a criminal,” said Dorian Speaker.
Now, the Speaker family has hired a lawyer and is preparing to bring their case to the federal court.
“I trust we will emerge victorious,” added Speaker.
Their attorney, Andy Tapp of the Metropolitan Law Group in Tampa, won a similar lawsuit in Oregon. Tapp argued that a person’s past should not impose his or her ability to conduct business nearly two decades later.
“I don’t see why I should end my life for a mistake,” said Speaker with a sigh.
A cap should evaluate the case in April or May, according to Tapp.
ABC Action News has contacted the Department of Agriculture and is still waiting to hear from them about the case.
In the refusal letter sent to the speaker family, a letter cited the reason for the refusal as “lack of corporate integrity”.
Here is the complete rejection letter sent to the speaker family: