Plaza Health Network cited repeatedly by feds, state for nursing home violations

By Francisco Alvarado, 

Plaza Health Network President and CEO Elaine Bloom and Chairman Ronald Lowy Photo: NBC 6

Plaza Health Network President and CEO Elaine Bloom and Chairman Ronald Lowy Photo: NBC 6

Plaza Health Network, the embattled nursing home chain that six months ago agreed to pay $21.5 million to settle federal civil charges that it defrauded Medicare and Medicaid, has habitually violated state and federal healthcare regulations by providing inadequate, and at times negligent, care to residents at its facilities. reviewed U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) records since 2012 and found 191 documented deficiencies at nonprofit Plaza Health’s seven nursing homes in Miami-Dade County. During the same time period, Plaza Health was hit with $24,820 in state and federal penalties for violations at three of its nursing homes in North Miami, North Miami Beach and the Overtown neighborhood of Miami.

The deficiencies ranged from improperly inserting a catheter into a patient and allowing a patient’s wound to fester without a physician diagnosing the injury for nearly three weeks.

“What is really cause for alarm are the recurring problems,” said Brian Lee, an executive with the union that represents Plaza Health’s rank-and-file employees who is also executive director of Tallahassee-based Families For Better Care. “There is a repeated pattern of issues that fly under radar that cause real harm to the residents.”

Ronald Lowy, a Miami attorney who is Plaza Health’s board chairman, said the deficiencies are not outside the norm.

“I think the number of deficiencies against our buildings are much less than the industry standard,” Lowy said. “The key is when a deficiency is found, we make sure those things are corrected so they don’t happen again.”


Founded in 1954 as the Hebrew Homes for the Aged, Plaza Health Network was sued in Miami federal court in 2012 by whistleblower Steven Beaujon, the company’s ex-chief financial officer, Steven Beaujon. The case triggered a Justice Department probe of Beaujon’s claim that for 10 years Plaza Health had paid kickbacks to physicians who referred it patients, allowing the company to submit $130 million in false claims for physical therapy.

Russell Galbut

Russell Galbut

Beaujon alleged that prominent Miami Beach developer Russell Galbut, who served as Plaza Health’s chairman from the mid-Nineties until November 2014, knew about the scheme and encouraged the practice. In previous interviews with, however, Galbut denied any wrongdoing.

In June, Plaza agreed to pay Beaujon $4.5 million and the U.S. $17 million to end the whistleblower litigation. Through companies he owns, Galbut is Plaza Health’s landlord on one of its nursing homes.

A month after settling with the feds, Plaza Health hired former state representative Elaine Bloom as president and CEO.

While the Medicare probe was ongoing, inspection reports filed by federal and state regulators show Plaza Health was also running into trouble over patient care.

For instance,’s current overall rating for Aventura Plaza Rehabilitation & Nursing Center, 1800 NE 168th Street, is “below average” and its health inspection rating is “much below average.” The property is also home to Plaza Health’s corporate headquarters.

State regulators at AHCA put Aventura Plaza on its watch list from May 20, 2013 to Nov. 20 of this year for “failing provide adequate and appropriate health care to its residents.” But that didn’t prevent further problems. During a Jan. 16, 2014 visit, AHCA inspectors observed that medical staff had botched the insertion of a Foley catheter into a female patient.

“This failure to properly secure the Foley catheter to the thigh resulted in excessive tugging and injury as evidenced by bleeding from the Foley insertion site,” says an administrative complaint filed against Plaza Health. “The resident’s adult brief had a moderate amount of old blood and fresh blood.”

AHCA’s board ordered Plaza Health to pay a $2,500 fine in June 2014.

HHS and AHCA records also show that investigators went to Aventura Plaza on May 19 after receiving a complaint regarding a mistreated patient. Upon interviewing the attending nurses, investigators determined a nurse failed to properly bandage a patient’s open wound when the person was admitted into the nursing home on April 9. An incident report also says that a physician did not inspect the injury until April 28. By then, the wound had developed necrosis.

Plaza Health’s director of nursing, who is not identified by name, later told inspectors “it was not normal” to allow 19 days to elapse before a physician diagnosed the patient’s injury, the report says.


In all, investigators flagged Aventura Plaza for 14 state and federal deficiencies since mid-January. According to HHS records, Aventura Plaza was ordered to pay a $1,885 fine on January 21, 2015 for three deficiencies, including failure to report possible physical abuse by a certified nursing assistant against a patient.

The average number of healthcare deficiencies in Florida nursing homes per year is 6.2 and the national average is 6.8, according to

Plaza Health’s Arch Plaza Rehabilitation & Nursing Center, located at 12505 NE 16th Ave in North Miami, has been slapped with 24 state and federal deficiencies since 2012 even though rated it “above average” and gave it a health inspection rating of “average.”

On March 1, 2015, inspectors cited 98-bed Arch Plaza for failing to immediately report a hand injury to a female patient that was not described. The patient, however, had to be taken to a hospital for further evaluation and treatment. Under state and federal law, licensed nursing homes are required to file prompt reports about injuries to patients.

Federal inspectors cited Arch Plaza again two weeks later for failing to keep its pill crushers clean. “During a survey of the pill crushers on the first floor medication carts, med cart #1 and #2 were found to be dirty with build-up residue on the crushing surface and dust mixed with brown buildup of dirt and rust on the front of the pill crushers.”

Follow up reports by state and federal investigators say Plaza Health implemented measures in June to correct those deficiencies.

“Plaza Health’s facilities have considerably less deficiencies when compared to other nursing homes in Miami-Dade,” said board chairman Lowy.

Lowy also said he’s documented anecdotal evidence that Plaza Health does a good job taking care of its residents.

“My own father-in-law is currently a patient at Aventura Plaza,” Lowy said. “He is thrilled to be there. I show up at the buildings unannounced and don’t tell patients who I am. Most of their general complaints are not of any major nature. There is nothing negative about the standard of care.”

However, several Plaza Health employees interviewed for this story said the non-profit company would continue to experience the same problems due to inadequate staffing and low employee morale.

In October, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents Plaza Health’s 400 employees, launched a media campaign demanding the non-profit increase its minimum salary to $15 an hour. Marie Alcindor, a certified nursing assistant who has worked at Arch Plaza for 22 years, said she earns slightly less than $11.50 an hour.

“Caregiving work is extremely rewarding, but the trouble is that I can’t support my own family on the low pay,” Alcindor said. “It also affects those we care for day-in and day-out.”

Yolaine Joseph, a certified nursing assistant at Aventura Plaza said she’s been with Plaza Health since 1981, yet only makes $13.08 an hour. She never looked for another employer because Aventura Plaza is close to her home, which allowed her to have more time to take care of her children.

“I don’t want people younger than me to go through what I have experienced,” Joseph said. “I have given them half of my life and I am a good worker.”

Lowy said Plaza Health simply cannot afford to raise the minimum wage to $15. “Medicaid and Medicare are not going to agree to reimbursing us those rates,” he said. “The $15 flat rate is something this industry cannot support.”

New union deal at Miami-Dade Schools to begin push toward $15 hourly minimum wage

By William Gjebre, minimumwage15

A tentative agreement between Miami-Dade Public Schools and the union representing its general employees raises the minimum pay for some of district’s lowest paid workers to $10 an hour, marking what a top union official says is the start of a drive to obtain a minimum hourly wage of $15.

The deal also provides for an immediate average pay hike of about four percent to the district’s food service employees, custodians, bus drivers and other workers.

Negotiators for the Miami-Dade school system and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Local 1184 reached the agreement Nov. 13. It goes to the School Board for approval today.

“We will be pressing for $15 an hour” in future negotiations, said Local president Vicki Hall.

“I think it is a very good deal for the union considering they are the lowest paid,” said James Haj, Assistant Superintendent in charge of the school district’s Labor Relations Department. He added that the district will look at the $15 an hour wage minimum, but only as an idea to be phased in over time.

“It does not happen overnight…We will keep moving on it,” Haj said.

Government agencies in various states around the country have joined the $15-an-hour minimum wage movement.

Last week, outside County Hall in downtown Miami, several hundred workers joined a $15 wage minimum rally headed by the Service Employees International Union, part of a nationwide demonstration in more than 200 cities that day.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this month unilaterally established a $15 hourly minimum wage for all state workers in New York City by the end of 2018, and the end of 2021 for state workers outside the city. Other cities that have approved a $15 an hour minimum, to be reached over the next two to five years, include Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The Miami-Dade School Board will be asked to ratify the agreement subject to union members endorsing the pact at a Nov. 23 vote.


Sources said the agreement came after union officials lobbied several school board members for a pay boost higher than the 2.4 percent that district officials had been offering. Union officials said the board members they lobbied were chairwoman Perla Hantman, Marta Perez Wurtz, Lawrence Feldman and Wilbert Holloway.

The pay boost for the union’s 7,300 workers is slightly more than the percentage boost accepted earlier this year by unions representing teachers, professional/technical workers and skilled craft employees. The AFSCME union gained much of the increase with a step advance on salary schedules — providing a nearly 4% average hike — rather than a flat rate hike.

According to district figures, the AFSMCE new contract’s total would cost increase salary costs by $4.5 million, though that number is proportionally less than its labor agreements with other unions. For example, the deal with the United Teachers of Dade, representing 31,000 teachers and other support personnel, is $50.1 million more.

If approved, the AFSCME accord would cover terms and conditions for three years, with the wage increase set for the first year, retroactive to July 1. Union officials said additional improvements to health insurance benefits would actually provide a wage improvement of 5 percent in the first year of the new contract.

About 714 employees represented by the union, including some food service and bus aides, will have their hourly salary hiked from about $9 to the new $10 minimum, Hall said.

Hall said the agreement also provides for joint union-management committees to study increasing the minimum hourly work guarantees for bus drivers to seven hours from the current six hours and evaluating staffing of food service workers and custodians to possibility add workers and reduce part time employees in these categories.

Ft. Lauderdale police snooped on investigator helping FBI probe police corruption, suit says

By Dan Christensen, 

Allen Smith, left, chief investigator for the Broward Public Defender's Offfice, with Public Defender Howard Finkelstein

Allen Smith, left, chief investigator for the Broward Public Defender’s Offfice, with Public Defender Howard Finkelstein

The chief investigator for the Broward Public Defender’s Office sued Fort Lauderdale last week alleging that a city policeman impermissibly obtained his driver’s license records while he was helping the FBI investigate police corruption in the city.

The federal civil action is the second since September to accuse police in Broward of using their otherwise legitimate access to a confidential law enforcement database to commit privacy violations against members of the Public Defender’s Office.

The incidents spurred Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein to ask the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, which runs the database, to find out whether the license information of any other staff attorneys, investigators or administrators has been improperly checked. The DMV has not yet responded.

“We’re concerned,” said Finkelstein. “Clearly, the police had no legitimate reason to do this.”

Last week’s lawsuit was filed by Allen Smith, a 26-year veteran of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department who joined the Public Defender’s Office as an investigator in 1997. It alleges that in 2011, while Smith was assisting federal agents in their corruption probe, the FBI put his name on a watch list to be notified if his name was run through any government databases.

On Nov. 29, 2011, the FBI notified Smith that Fort Lauderdale Officer James Wood had accessed his records through the DMV’s Driver and Vehicle Information Database.

“Plaintiff was later informed that his driver’s license photograph was printed and used as a target on a dart board in the Fort Lauderdale police station,” says the nine-page complaint.

Smith, who the lawsuit says has never been arrested or stopped and ticketed while driving in the city, was made to “feel at risk as if he is subject to law enforcement scrutiny as a result of his work on police corruption investigations.”

Smith reported the matter to the State Attorney’s Office. In June 2012, prosecutor Stefanie Newman declined to prosecute. Her close-out memo says that while there was evidence that Wood exceeded his authority by obtaining Smith’s records for “personal reasons,” there “is no indication he disseminated that information in violation” of criminal statutes.

The department’s Internal Affairs division also cleared Wood, a decision later accepted without much probing by Fort Lauderdale’s Citizens Police Review Board, a body staffed by city Internal Affairs detectives and governed by a nine-member board that includes three city officers.

Officer Wood, who is not a named defendant in Smith’s lawsuit, did not respond to a request for comment passed through the department’s media relations office. The City Attorney’s Office also did not return a phone call seeking comment.

In separate interviews, both Finkelstein and Smith said the FBI approached the Public Defender’s Office in 2011 for assistance as the bureau was establishing an anti-corruption unit in Broward.

“We were asked by them to furnish information we had in our files,” said Smith. “Knowing police officers the way I do, I told them that if it got out I was working with the FBI, my name and personal identification information would be checked so I asked to be put on an alert list. Two weeks later was when it was run.”

Smith said he ultimately gave the FBI “half a box full of stuff” regarding incidents of apparent police corruption in Broward.

What did the FBI do with that information? What is the status and scope of the FBI’s previously unreported police corruption investigation?

Smith doesn’t know. “You know how the feds are. You feed them, but they don’t give you any snacks in return,” he said.

FBI Special Agent Richard Stout, who met with Finkelstein and Smith, did not respond to a detailed voicemail message requesting comment.

Smith’s complaint, assigned to U.S. District Judge James Cohn, contends that the city violated the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), passed in response to the 1989 murder of television actress Rebecca Schaeffer by a crazed fan who obtained her address from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. It asserts that police obtained Smith’s records “without any permissible purpose for doing so.”

The suit seeks a declaration that the city broke federal law regarding the disclosure of personal information, and an order prohibiting the city from future violations. Also sought: liquidated damages of $2,500 per violation and unspecified punitive damages.

Assistant Public Defender Molly Caroline McCrae filed a class-action lawsuit citing the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act against both Fort Lauderdale and the Broward Sheriff’s Office this fall. She has the same lawyers that Smith does, Paul Kunz of Miami and Michael L. Greenwald of Boca Raton.

McCrae has been a public defender since 2009, handling homicide and other cases. According to her complaint, she has never been arrested or stopped while driving and has no reason to believe she is the focus of any criminal investigation.

However, after becoming concerned that her motor vehicle records may have been inappropriately accessed, McCrae asked the DMV to check. She got back a list showing that three law enforcement officers from Fort Lauderdale and BSO obtained her records four times in 2011 and 2012. The suit identifies those cases and policemen as:

  • Fort Lauderdale Officer Ethan Hodge obtained McCrae’s records on Sept. 17, 2011, ten days after she subpoenaed him to appear for a deposition in a third-degree felony case in which she was representing the defendant.
  • Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Ronald Cusumano obtained McCrae’s records on Nov. 3, 2011. At the time, Cusumano was listed as a witness in another third-degree felony case in which McCrae was the defense lawyer.
  • Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Lucca got McCrae’s motor vehicle records twice on Aug. 24, 2012.

The police actions to obtain her motor vehicle records “in violation of the DPPA” made McCrae, like Smith, “feel at risk and as if she is subject to law enforcement scrutiny as a result of her work as a public defender.”

Citing “repeated efforts” of police to improperly access McCrae’s motor vehicle records, the lawsuit contends that city officers and county deputies “routinely obtain private motor vehicle records of Broward County public defenders, without consent and without a permissible purpose for doing so.”

The proposed class in McCrae’s lawsuit: all current and former employees of the Public Defender’s Office whose motor vehicle records were obtained from Sept. 11, 2011 through Sept. 11, 2015 by an officer or deputy who got a subpoena or notice to testify.

Neither the Fort Lauderdale Police nor the Broward Sheriff’s Office responded to requests for comment about McCrae’s case.

Rubio’s ambition tied to hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for South Florida schools

By William Gjebre, 

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio

Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach public schools have lost hundreds of millions of dollars since 2004 when the Florida Legislature changed the way schools are funded – an action linked to the political ambitions of Republican Party presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

The New York Times reported Oct. 21 that then-State Rep. Rubio bargained for political support to become speaker of the Florida House in exchange for not opposing measures that diverted funds from large school districts like his home county of Miami-Dade to smaller districts upstate.

Rubio served as Florida House Speaker from 2006-2008. According to The Times, he secured the position in 2003 with backing from upstate legislators after he agreed not to oppose measures that would reduce funding to heavily populated areas with higher property tax bases like Miami and increase spending in less dense, rural regions in the state.

Rubio, 44, now a first-term U.S. senator and serious Republican challenger for his party’s presidential nomination next year, did not respond to requests for comment left with his campaign and his Senate office. The Times, however, reported that Rubio previously said there were no tradeoffs in his successful effort to become Speaker of the House, and that he had complained that there was excessive spending and waste of funds by the Miami-Dade school district.

The changes that have cost South Florida’s school districts so much included alterations to the school funding formula that determined student allocations. One change to the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) involved the addition of an “amenity factor” to the so-called district cost differential, or DCD, which at the time sent more money to large districts due to their higher costs of living.

Another change involved so-called “compression or equalization” funding in which school districts rich in local property taxes – like Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach – saw funds above a statewide average taken away and given to less property-rich districts. Under this take-from-the-rich-and-give-to-the-poor arrangement, school districts in South Florida became known as “donors.”

The changes, signed into law by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, were effective starting in the 2004-2005 school year.

At the request of, Miami-Dade Public Schools compiled a list of the cumulative gains and losses from then until now due to those funding changes at school districts in each of Florida’s 67 counties.


Miami-Dade County Public Schools was the biggest loser of state funds, with an eye-popping total loss of slightly more than $1 billion.

Broward County Public Schools took the second biggest hit, ranking 66th among Florida’s 67 county school districts with total losses from 2004 thru 2015-16 due to the funding changes of $509 million.

Palm Beach Public Schools was third with losses of $335 million, and ranked 65th among the counties, according to the list. Even Monroe County schools lost big: $30.5 million, ranking 63rd.

The Miami-Dade School’s study also found the biggest winner from the funding changes was Duval County, with a cumulative gain of $309 million since the 2004-2005 school year. Hillsborough County ranked second with a $271 million gain and Polk County was third with a gain of $225 million.

Federick Ingram

Federick Ingram

Fedrick Ingram, the recently elected vice president of the Florida Education Association and outgoing president of the United Teachers of Dade, said the funding loss in South Florida impacted teacher salaries and resulted in some program cuts.

“He (Rubio) could have assisted the local area … but supported more funds for the north (schools districts), ‘’ Ingram said. “He chose personal ambition.”

School districts in Broward and Palm Beach confirmed that they, too, suffered significant cumulative losses as a result of the changes to the funding formula and the district cost differential since 2004. They calculated their total losses to be millions of dollars lower than what Miami-Dade found.

Broward County Public Schools lost approximately $346 million since 2004 as a result of the changes, according to the district’s public information office. An official with knowledge of financing at Palm Beach County Public Schools said that district lost $189 million through last year as a result in the changes.

The Times story outlined how Rubio, after being elected to the House in a special election in 2000, set out to curry favor with House Republican leaders, leading to his ascent to House speaker after making the alleged deal.

While the Legislature was in session in 2004, the Miami-Dade School Board attempted to thwart the funding changes. Records show that on April 14, 2004 the board instructed staff that its top issue was to “preserve” the existing favorable district cost differential.

But a month later, with the change apparently by then approved by the Legislature, the Board instructed staff to hire lawyers to sue to stop it. The legal effort was later joined by the Broward and Palm Beach school districts.


The courts, however, dismissed the case about June 2005. But not before legal costs rose to $620,000, the Miami-Dade School Board was later informed. Broward paid $150,000 and Palm Beach, $125,000.

It didn’t take long before Miami-Dade and other large districts felt the pain of the funding cuts.

Then-Miami-Dade Superintendent Rudy Crew outlined the financial impact of the changes at the March 12, 2008 School Board meeting.

“The continuation of the loss of the DCD has meant that between 2004 and now this district has lost approximately $200 million,” said Crew, according to the minutes. He went on to discuss a series of budget cuts that included layoffs and furlough days.

Two months later, at its May 5, 2008 meeting, the school board was informed that the losses were worse than originally thought.

“Another impact has been equalization of local millage where the state adopted a policy that deprived Miami-Dade and other like counties of general revenues coming from general revenue taxes – sales taxes, explained then-Associate Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, according to the minutes.

“The impact of that on Miami-Dade over the past four years, beginning in 2005-2006, with a $10 million hit progressing all the way to 2007-2008, current year, to the tune of $67 million, and projected to become $18 million next year,” Carvalho said.

Adam Hasner, a former Florida legislator who was a part of Rubio’s Tallahassee team, did not return calls for comment. The New York Times story reported Hasner praised Rubio for looking out for the entire state rather than just his home county.

But that stance also appears to have helped Rubio achieve what only two other South Florida politicians have accomplished in the last half-century: capturing the powerful post of Speaker of the Florida House.

While Miami-Dade school officials fumed about the funding cuts, at least one education watchdog cheered the changes. Charlotte Greenbarg, who for years has closely monitored education in Miami-Dade and Broward, said the funding change was necessary because the large districts had wasteful spending practices.

Miami-Dade, Greenbarg said, was top heavy with high-paying administrators, many of them earning more than $100,000 year while teachers were paid much less.

As Marco Rubio pushes past Jeb Bush in polls, Democrats shift sights

By Francisco Alvarado, 

Jeb Bush, left, and Marco Rubio

Jeb Bush, left, and Marco Rubio

With Marco Rubio overtaking Jeb Bush in polls for the Republican presidential nomination, national Democratic political organizations have turned up their attacks on the U.S. senator, accusing him of breaking Senate ethics rules and federal election laws by soliciting campaign donations from his Senate office and using Senate staff to work on his campaign.

In the coming weeks, these groups will continue highlighting more of Rubio’s vulnerabilities, from his alleged misuse of a Republican Party credit card to his close friendships with disgraced politicians like ex-congressman David Rivera and former State Rep. Ralph Arza, according to Democratic and Republican operatives in Rubio’s home county of Miami-Dade.

“Marco seems to be the guy on the upswing right now,” said Ben Pollara, a Miami Beach-based Democratic political consultant. “It is only natural that they are turning their fire on him. A true deep dive into his record in Florida is bound to happen.”

Miami-Dade Republican Party Chairman Nelson Diaz concurred. “I’ve noticed Democrats are trash-talking Marco more,” he said. “It might hurt him a little. At the end of the day, people understand candidates are not 100 percent perfect.”

Miami-Dade Republican Party Chairman Nelson Diaz

Miami-Dade Republican Party Chairman Nelson Diaz

Over the past two months, Rubio has ascended in national polls, as well as surveys in early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida. While Rubio still trails billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, he’s topping Bush, who has tumbled into the single digits after starting his campaign as the presumed front-runner.

A Quinnipiac national poll released Nov. 4 has Rubio garnering 14 percent of Republican voters, trailing Carson and Trump, who virtually tied for first. Bush, on the other hand, had his worst showing yet with 4 percent, placing him fifth behind U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

The momentum shift has led to groups like the American Bridge 21st Century political action committee and the American Democracy Legal Fund to escalate their strikes against Rubio.

American Bridge is a super PAC that conducts opposition research for the Democratic Party. Rodell Mollineau, a former staffer of Sen. Harry Reid, is American Bridge’s treasurer and George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager and Democrat rainmaker, is one of the PAC’s largest benefactors. Soros contributed $1 million to American Bridge in May, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

Since Oct. 23, American Bridge has produced three YouTube videos assailing Rubio, but none on the other Republican contenders. Prior to that, American Bridge primarily focused on Bush, having made 41 online clips since the former Florida governor entered the race in June. In contrast, the PAC has produced 10 total videos about Rubio since his presidential announcement in April.


In the most recent American Bridge video about the senator, uploaded on Oct. 29, the PAC takes aim at Rubio’s abysmal Senate attendance record with screenshots of a Sun-Sentinel editorial calling for him to resign. In addition, Rubio is featured in the headlines of 15 of 22 blog posts on American Bridge’s website between Oct. 23 and Nov. 4. Spokespersons for American Bridge and Rubio’s presidential campaign did not respond to multiple email requests for comment.

While American Bridge is hammering Rubio with videos and blogs, the American Democracy Legal Fund — a group helmed by former Democratic National Committee communications director Brad Woodhouse — wants the FEC to investigate Rubio for allegedly breaking Senate ethics rules and campaign finance laws.

According to an Oct. 28 complaint signed by Woodhouse, Rubio solicited campaign contributions during an on-air interview with Fox News when he was inside the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. The complaint alleges Rubio said, “obviously if somebody watching this program wants to help us, they should go to and chip in.”

Woodhouse claimed “Rubio’s campaign donation pitch was a flagrant violation of federal law and Senate rules.” His complaint also accuses Rubio’s Senate staff of providing policy proposals and ideas to his campaign that were crafted during work hours using Senate resources and facilities.

This is not the first time Rubio has run afoul of campaign finance laws. In September, after receiving a warning from the FEC, the Rubio campaign notified federal regulators that it had refunded more than $120,000 to contributors who donated more than the $2,700 maximum allowed by law. Ernest Semersky, an Illinois Porsche dealership owner, received the largest refund: $10,000.

A month later, on Oct. 27, a super PAC called Values are Vital voided a $5,000 check it gave the Rubio campaign after the committee was unable to get a refund. In July, the FEC had warned Values are Vital that its excessive contribution was not allowed by law. According to an Aug. 21 letter to the FEC, the committee’s lawyer James C. Thomas III requested more time to address the problem because the Rubio campaign failed to respond to his email inquiry and a certified letter asking for the refund.

Prior to his April presidential campaign unveiling, Rubio’s campaign had been warned by the FEC after each of its four quarterly filings in 2014 that it had accepted excessive contributions. Two days before Rubio announced his candidacy, the campaign refunded more than $23,000 in excessive contributions and another $27,000 was either reclassified for use in the 2016 general election, or applied to the spouses of donors who gave more than the maximum allowed by federal law. In 2012, Rubio’s campaign and its treasurer paid an $8,000 civil penalty to settle an FEC inquiry into $210,173 in excessive donations accepted in 2010, the year he won his Senate seat.

Pollara said Rubio can expect even more intense scrutiny of his campaign’s financial missteps, his record as a state legislator, and his friendships with Rivera and Arza. Although he hasn’t been criminally charged, Rivera’s ex-girlfriend Ana Alliegro has implicated the former congressman as the mastermind behind a ringer candidate that ran against his nemesis and Democrat Joe Garcia in the 2012 primary. Alliegro made the accusation under oath during a federal court hearing in February. A month later, an administrative judge in Tallahassee ruled Rivera had to pay nearly $58,000 in fines for ethics violations that occurred when he was a state legislator.

In 2006, Arza was forced to resign from the State House after he was charged with two felonies, including for retaliating against and tampering with a witness. Arza had left a threatening voicemail on the phone of then-State Rep. Gus Barreiro over a dispute involving then-Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Rudy Crew, whom Arza referred to with a racial slur. Arza pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of tampering with a witness and was sentenced to probation, community service, an anger management program, and alcohol abuse counseling.

“The more he gets examined, the worse it will get for Marco,” Pollara said. “It’s like cockroaches. When you see one scurrying around, there are thousands more behind the walls.”
Diaz countered that voters are not going to hold Rubio accountable for the alleged misdeeds of his friends. “People elected Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama knowing all their flaws,” he said. “Voters will accept a flawed candidate.”

Gov. Rick Scott won’t release 2014 tax return or info about his blind trust

By Dan Christensen, 

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott

When Gov. Rick Scott qualified to run for re-election last year, he made public his federal income tax returns for 2010-2012 “in the interest of full and complete public transparency,” according to his lawyer.

Four months later, with Election Day approaching and media inquiries rising, Scott also disclosed his 2013 tax return.

But today, amid news of Scott’s investment in a company that’s seeking to build a controversial, $3-billion natural gas pipeline in north and central Florida, the governor won’t make public his federal income tax return for 2014.

“If he’s provided his income tax returns in the past, it would seem in the spirit of transparency that he should provide it now,” said Ben Wilcox, research director for the nonpartisan government watchdog group Integrity Florida.

The governor’s office also declined a request by for copies of the federal tax returns filed by the now-closed blind trust that Scott used during his first term to hold his assets outside public scrutiny.

Scott revoked his original blind trust in June 2014 in order to run for re-election, immediately opening a new blind trust into which he rolled over his assets. By state law, public officials do not have access to the tax returns of their active blind trust.

Likewise, the governor’s office would not make public copies of the agreements Scott signed with the trustee of his blind trusts in 2011 and again last year. Those trust agreements control the trustee’s actions. Florida’s “qualified blind trust” law specifically allows the governor to make his trust agreements public, but it does not require him to do so.

“A search of the Executive Office of the Governor’s files produced no documents responsive to your request,” said Savannah Sams of the governor’s Office of Open Government.

In 2013, the Legislature decided that if a public official creates a trust and does not control the interests it holds, his “official actions will not be influenced or appear to be influenced by private considerations.”


That justification underlines the enactment of Florida’s qualified blind trust statute, which effectively grants immunity from prohibited conflicts of interest to public officials regarding assets they stash in a blind trust.

There is strong evidence, however, that Gov. Scott retains control over his blind trust.

An investigation last year by found that the state’s blind trust law has been ineffective in keeping Scott from becoming aware of what’s in his trust. Indeed, on several occasions in the last three years Gov. Scott signed paperwork filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that reported in detail on large stock transactions made by his blind trust. Those transactions brought the governor tens millions of dollars.

Alan Bazaar, CEO of Hollow Brook Wealth Management

Alan Bazaar, CEO of Hollow Brook Wealth Management

Further, the governor has described his trustee, New York’s Hollow Brook Wealth Management, as “independent,” yet the firm’s chief executive officer is longtime Scott crony and former employee Alan Bazaar. Also at Hollow Brook: Cathy Gellatly, Scott’s former corporate accountant at Richard L. Scott Investments.

Bazaar signed paperwork in 2011 and again last year certifying the blind trusts met the requirements of Florida law and were independent of the governor. His certifications, however, were not made under oath and were not notarized, offering the public little assurance or recourse.

When Scott revoked his original blind trust last year while qualifying to run again for governor, he made public a lengthy list of his assets. The maneuver served to insulate Scott from criticism about financial transparency during his successful re-election campaign against Charlie Crist, but it also revealed that since 2011 Scott had placed a large personal bet on the natural gas industry.

One of Scott’s investments was in Texas-based Spectra Energy, which wants to build Sabal Trail, a controversial 474-mile underground pipeline designed to run from Alabama and Georgia to a hub in central Florida near Orlando, in partnership with Florida Power & Light. Scott reported owning $108,000 in shares of Spectra and its affiliate DCP Midstream Partners.

Florida ethics laws generally prohibit public officials from owning stock in businesses subject to their regulation or that do business with state agencies.

Gov. Scott’s stake in Spectra wasn’t publicly known in 2013 when he signed into law a pair of bills designed to speed up permitting for the pipeline project, or when the state Public Service Commission – whose members he appointed – unanimously approved its construction.

In July, the Department of Environmental Protection announced it intended to award both a permit and underwater drilling rights for the project to Sabal Trail Transmission LLC. An environmental group challenging that decision has accused the governor of a conflict of interest. A state administrative judge is considering the matter.

U.S. settles case against Broward Health for millions less than it lost in alleged fraud

By Dan Christensen, 

Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale

Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale

The U.S. Justice Department settled a massive healthcare fraud case against Broward Health last month for millions of dollars less than the government lost as a result of the alleged fraud, records show.

Broward Health paid the government $69.5 million to end a vexing investigation begun in 2010 after Fort Lauderdale orthopedic surgeon Michael Reilly blew the whistle on improper financial relationships between the hospital system and its physicians dating back more than a decade. The scheme allegedly cheated American taxpayers, Medicare and Medicaid.

Documents released to by the North Broward Hospital District under Florida’s public records law add new perspective to the deal that Justice Department attorneys touted as an unqualified achievement.

The records show that even after significantly narrowing the scope of the alleged fraud to facilitate settlement, the government accepted $2.1 million less than its claimed losses, and $5.5 million less than the $75 million in losses that Broward Health itself had calculated.

Likewise, Broward Health was not required to reimburse the government for the costs of the five-year probe by attorneys and agents at both the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services.

“The government’s goal is to change behavior,” said Patrick Burns, co-director of the Washington-based Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund. “If in fact you only recover what was stolen, then you have not sent a deterrent message, and when you have a recovery less than what was stolen, you have sent the opposite message.”

Mark Lavine, the South Florida assistant U.S. attorney who helped lead the case against Broward Health, said he was not authorized to respond to media inquiries. He forwarded a request for comment to the public information office, but no response was received before deadline.

Broward Health Chairman David Di Pietro said the $1.27 billion hospital system paid the settlement with funds drawn from its $800 million in reserves.


The documents, including a 115-page transcript of a confidential Aug. 20 meeting between Broward Health’s seven-member board of commissioners and its lawyers, show that a favorable payout number wasn’t the only incentive for Broward Health to settle.

Without an agreement, Broward Health faced the chilling prospect of prolonged and embarrassing litigation with the government seeking excess of $500 million in actual and punitive damages under the False Claims Act. Other risks included a possible expansion of the investigation to include more doctors and exclusion from federal health care programs – the so-called corporate “death penalty.”

Broward Health's healthcare lawyers, Linda Baumann and D. Jacques Smith

Broward Health’s healthcare lawyers, Linda Baumann and D. Jacques Smith

“The vast majority of cases settle. They don’t want to run the risk of being kicked out of Medicare and Medicaid. Exclusion is just too big a threat,” Linda Baumann, a healthcare attorney with Washington’s Arent Fox law firm, told commissioners at the two-hour Aug. 20 meeting.

Commissioners, each appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, voted unanimously to settle that day after viewing a PowerPoint presentation outlining settlement talks and listening to Baumann’s colleague, attorney D. Jacques Smith, call the proposed $69.5 million penalty and a requirement that Broward Health establish a corporate integrity program, “very reasonable.”

The whistleblower investigation kicked off by Dr. Reilly’s False Claims Act lawsuit looked at alleged Medicare and Medicaid fraud that arose from overly generous contracts Broward Health gave to doctors who referred patients for tests and procedures. The federal Stark Law limits financial relationships hospitals may have with referring physicians.

In May 2011, federal agents subpoenaed 10 years of Broward Health’s records from 27 staff physicians. Over the next few years, the inquiry focused on nine doctors the Justice Department was “most interested in,” according to Smith.

Broward Health produced a total of 1.7 million documents. Included were internal emails that attorney Smith told commissioners “weren’t what Linda and I would call ‘best practices,’ okay?”

“Some of the documents we turned over, and some of the things we saw, frankly were troubling,” Smith said.


But those weren’t Broward Health’s only problematic records. There were thousands of additional documents the government never saw because Broward Health’s lawyers claimed they were privileged due to attorney-client relationships or for other legal reasons.

If the case had continued, government investigators may have been able to get a look at those records. Here’s how attorney Baumann characterized them before the board: “You have documents that are on the privilege log that are not the greatest, but I really didn’t see a huge number of smoking guns.”

A page from the PowerPoint presentation shown to Broward Health's board of commissioners on Aug. 20.

A page from the PowerPoint presentation shown to Broward Health’s board of commissioners on Aug. 20.

The law firm’s PowerPoint presentation provides a breakout by physician of the losses they caused to the government and the liability that resulted for Broward Health. The top five: cardiologist Violeta McCormack, $30.1 million; pediatrician Hector Rodriquez-Cortes, $11.2 million; pediatrician Rudolph Roskos, $9.2 million; cardiologist Michael Chizner, $8.5 million; and hematologist Shazia Zafar, $5 million. Dr. Zafar now works for Memorial Healthcare.

The nine doctors faced no regulatory action or penalties as a result of their involvement in the allege fraud scheme. “The irony of the Stark Law is that all the penalties are directed at the organization and not the doctors,” Baumann explained to Broward Health’s board.

Broward Health doctors with contracts that paid them annual salaries in excess of a million dollars took pay cuts last year when their contracts were renegotiated to make them “commercially reasonable.” Still, a bad taste remained for some commissioners.

“So what do we say, though, when somebody says that Dr. Chizner cost us $8.5 million and is still making $860,000 a year?” asked board chairman Di Pietro.

“Well, you have to be very confident that your current contract is totally squeaky clean,” replied Baumann.

Will Broward Health seek to recover those lost millions by filing clawback lawsuits against its physicians?

“We have not formally considered that option, but likely no,” said Di Pietro, citing legal reasons.


Broward Health, which received $146.1 million in property taxes last year, admitted no wrongdoing in the board-approved settlement. Still, Di Pietro and several other commissioners expressed concern about public accountability – with Di Pietro noting for the record that physician contracts used to be handed out in secret by the board chair, the chief financial officer and the chief executive officer.

“Is there any responsible party still at the district on an executive level?” Di Pietro asked.

“Not that I’m aware of, said Baumann. “To me, the fault lay in an inadequate legal staff to be honest…You just didn’t have hardly any lawyers. And this is a huge organization.”

Meanwhile, Broward Health, a medical safety net for Broward County, faces the prospect of having to pay extra millions for additional misconduct outside the scope of the settlement.

For example, attorney Baumann told the board that a coding audit of Broward Health’s medical records, apparently done by the Department of Health and Human Services, found “a 53 percent error rate” and “no indication of follow up.”

Overpayments to Broward Health from federal healthcare programs now must be returned.

“You know, that’s a million or two. It’s relatively small,” Baumann told commissioners.

Baumann added that Broward Health also is liable for various failures to make required disclosures to the government under the federal Stark Law. “There is going to be money that has to be paid under the Stark self-disclosure,” she said, without elaborating.

Broward Health Chief Executive Officer Dr. Nabil El Sanadi and Di Pietro declined to comment on the coding audit or the district’s other outstanding liabilities saying they were unfamiliar with those matters.

Further, the lawyers warned, Broward Health could face having to pay Florida millions of dollars if state Attorney General Pam Bondi decides to sue under the Florida False Claims Act to recover the state’s Medicaid losses from the scheme.

The Justice Department discussed the case with Bondi’s office in June, but Broward Health has not heard back from the state.

“I don’t think it’s likely,” said Baumann. Still, she said, it’s possible if Florida needs “some extra money, because it’s a relatively easy way.”

Asked Tuesday about Attorney General Bondi’s intentions, spokesman Whitney Ray said, “We plan to review the settlement for any needed action.”

Growing chorus of Miami-Dade teachers denounce pay deal by Carvalho, union

By Francisco Alvarado, teachersalary2

As Miami Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho blames Tallahassee legislators for failing to overhaul the standardized testing system used to evaluate student and teacher performance, a growing chorus of disgruntled rank-and-file teachers accuse him, the school board and the teacher’s union of breaking state law governing their employment contract.

In recent weeks, at school board meetings and on social media, dozens of teachers have denounced the agreement negotiated in August by the school district and United Teachers of Dade, alleging the terms do away with significant pay raises they were due in 2014.

During last year’s legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott signed off on funding that allows school districts to implement a new system for doling out raises based on teacher work performance. Broward County Public Schools, for example, approved the new system in March.

A Facebook group called “#Teacher Strong MDCPS Employees, you are worth more,” has amassed more than 3,500 members in less than two months and has become a place for teachers to vent. A majority of the commenters are teachers at Miami-Dade Public Schools.

Sarah Hays Duffort, a teacher at John A. Ferguson Senior High in southwest Miami-Dade, is one of the more vocal critics. She said in an interview that many educators feel disillusioned under Carvalho, the American Association of School Administrators’ 2014 national superintendent of the year.


“We are frustrated,” Hays said. “We are bearing the brunt of this management.”

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho

In late August, district officials said they reached a deal with the union that includes about a three percent salary increase and another one percent healthcare salary savings to teachers and educational support personnel. At the time, Carvalho issued a statement praising its terms.

“This historic agreement represents our investment, both intellectually and financially, in the value of our teachers and the work they do,” Carvalho said then. “Despite years of economic challenges and tax shortfalls, we were still able to negotiate an agreement that dignifies and honors the teaching profession.”

But a sizable representation of the teacher’s union didn’t agree, and 40 percent of its members voted against the contract last month only days before the school board approved it.

Hays, two other teachers interviewed by, and scores of their colleagues on Facebook contend the contract is illegal under a state law approved in 2011 that divided teachers into two categories and created different pay raise schedules for tenured and non-tenured employees.

Under the law, teachers hired before July 1, 2014 are grandfathered into a salary schedule that bases salary increases on their tenure. Those hired after that date qualify for raises based on work performance, including how their students fare on standardized tests. The teachers who object to the new contract say it does not differentiate “grandfathered” teachers from non-tenured teachers and that the three percent pay increase is considerably less than what the law requires.

School district officials insisted the teachers’ contract is legal and fair.

“Current amendments to state law define what constitutes a ‘grandfathered salary schedule’ and the district adhered to said requirements in negotiating the present labor contract,” said School Board Attorney Walter Harvey in an email response to Florida Bulldog. “As stated in the agreement with UTD, the new salary schedule will serve as both the grandfathered and the performance pay salary schedules.”

Jose L. Dotres, who heads the district’s Human Capital Management Office, said by email that the new agreement evens the playing field.

“The new salary schedule provides [Miami-Dade Public Schools] the ability to negotiate increases that value all teachers,” Dotres said. “Because salaries are negotiated on a yearly basis with UTD, teacher compensation will generally increase rather than remain at current levels.”

Miami-Dade school teacher Sarah Hays Duffort

Miami-Dade school teacher Sarah Hays Duffort

Teacher Hays lacks confidence in the school district’s assurances. She said that under the school district’s interpretation she would be considered a non-tenured teacher whose work performance determines the size of her raise even though she has worked six years for the district. The reason: she was hired on a year-to-year basis and is not classified as a permanent employee.


State law requires school districts to come up with a formula that rates non-tenured teachers from “highly ineffective” to “highly effective.” Non-tenured teachers who score “unsatisfactory” and “needs improvement” can be placed on probation, while those who rate “effective” and “highly effective” would get annual raises of $2,500 and $3,500, respectively. Tenured or “grandfathered” teachers, on the other hand, would get salary increases based on the number of years they have worked for a school district.

Hays, who makes close to $42,000 annually, said she has no problem having her work performance evaluated, saying she has always received a rating of “highly effective.” But under the pay scale negotiated in the UTD contract, he says, she will get a meager salary bump of $837.

“I do a good job and I am fine with accountability,” Hays said. “I figured once they get the performance pay schedule in motion I will have some type of benefit. The problem is the benefit [of raises based on her performance] never comes.”

Thais Alvarez, a teacher at Norman S. Edelcup Sunny Isles Beach K-8 center who posts criticisms regularly on the Facebook page, said she qualifies to be grandfathered because she has been a permanent district employee since 2007. Alvarez said she has not received a raise in almost five years as they waited for the legislature and the school district to set up the new salary raise system.

“It’s a huge impact because teachers like myself were supposed to see greater increases in our later years,” Alvarez said. “I was anxiously waiting to get salary increases of $2,000 to $3,000. I thought it was worth the sacrifice because eventually my salary would go up.”

Alvarez said there are teachers earning $30,000 a year for as long as a decade who under the new system will see only a $600 increase under the deal, while others no longer can count on future earnings to put away for their retirement.

“While it is factually accurate that they are giving us a pay increase,” Alvarez said. “It cannot be called a raise when you factor in the cost of living, medical expenses and higher contributions to our pensions.”

Natalia Guevara, a Ferguson High chemistry teacher with a masters’ degree in public health, said she recently obtained a real estate license and plans to moonlight as a realtor to supplement her $49,000 yearly salary. A district employee on a year-to-year contract since 2009, Guevara said she maintains a “highly effective” rating for the past three years, but has yet to see a raise.

“Personally it is very disappointing,” Guevara said. “I bust my ass every day grading papers, running the science honors society, and getting the kids involved. If I am doing my job well, I should be rewarded.”

Fort Lauderdale to use “poor people’s money” to subsidize transit for affluent?

By William Gjebre, 

A rendering of Fort Lauderdale's proposed WAVE streetcar. Will tax dollars intended to eliminate slums be used to pay for it?

A rendering of Fort Lauderdale’s proposed WAVE streetcar. Will tax dollars intended to eliminate slums be used to pay for it?

Fort Lauderdale’s recent approval of a no-bid contract to update the plan for the troubled Northwest-Progresso-Flagler Heights Community Redevelopment Agency has raised concerns about a lack of public input amid a rush to add projects not in the current plan at the expense of community needs.

Scott Strawbridge, who serves on the CRA’s 14-member advisory board, has called for outside review of the agency after he and his colleagues were informed that City Manager Lee Feldman signed a $24,500 contract with a private firm in August to amend the current CRA plan, last updated in 2001.

Pompano Beach-based Redevelopment Management Associates LLC has already begun the first phase of the work. Under city code, the city manager has authority to enter into contracts up to $25,000, without seeking approval from the CRA board.

“The city is trying to push through a short term process that should take a longer review,” said Strawbridge, adding there needs to be more data to support any proposed changes. “I think it would be healthy for the public to understand what has been spent…There should be accountability.”

Except for one informational hearing on Sept. 23 about the Redevelopment Management firm’s study, there has been little public notice and input, Strawbridge added.

Frank Schnidman, a Florida Atlantic University professor recognized as an expert on legal issues regarding CRAs law, said state statute makes “clear if projects are not in the plan then it’s inappropriate to use tax increment” CRA funds to pay for them.

By law, the mission of CRAs is to clean up slum and blight. Schnidman said the Northeast Progresso-Flagler Heights CRA apparently is considering funding transportation projects not currently in the plan. But even if they met the legal requirements for CRA funding “they would not alleviate slum and blight…They would be using poor people’s money to subsidize transit for people living in more affluent areas.”

“This would be another manipulation of tax money,” Schnidman said, adding the funds would be better used for “affordable housing, where there is a crisis. Poor people would be left out in favor of politically favored projects, like the Wave,” a proposed streetcar system primarily servicing the downtown area.

Fort Lauderdale City Manager Lee Feldman

Fort Lauderdale City Manager Lee Feldman

City Manager Feldman, who also serves as executive director of the CRA, and Jeremy Earle, deputy director, of the city’s Sustainable Development Office, did not respond to requests for comment.

However, city spokesman Matt Little noted in an e-mail response that the CRA budget includes funding for the WAVE, “as approved by the CRA Board.” He also said the budget may include “a line item” subsidy for the existing Sun Trolley system, if the project is contained in the Plan, but did not clarify if that was the case or not.

The CRA’s plan is being updated because it hasn’t been amended for 11 years, and changes could allow for the enhancement of transportation, provide support for community events and give the CRA Board flexibility to consider other proposals that may be presented, the spokesman said.

The concerns follow a problematic city auditor’s report in May that castigated the Northwest Progresso-Flagler Heights CRA for its poor oversight of a taxpayer-financed office and retail complex, Sixth Street Plaza, which filed for bankruptcy last spring.

“The project lacked fundamental project discipline, from risk assessment and establishing proper governance to detailed accounting of funds disbursement,” City Auditor John Herbst wrote in a cover memo to the city commission, which also sits as the CRA’s board of directors.

The city commission requested the report after reported in February that taxpayer loans were in jeopardy due to the forced sale of the plaza.

Strawbridge, an official with the Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority, stopped short of naming the agency that should look into NPF’s spending practices. But the Broward Inspector General’s Office has kept close tabs of municipal CRAs in recent years.

Last year, for example, the Inspector General found the Margate CRA deliberately mishandled $2.7 million in funds by rolling the money over for several years without specific purposes. In 2013, it determined that the Hallandale Beach CRA had $2.2 million in questionable expenditures.

Two years ago, the Florida Auditor General cited the Hollywood Beach CRA for failing to report $36.2 million in unspent year-end funds from 2009-2010 and $34.2 million from 2010-2011. The city is now considering options that would redirect funds intended for the CRA to the city.

The proposed route of Fort Lauderdale's WAVE streetcar

The proposed route of Fort Lauderdale’s WAVE streetcar

Strawbridge said the Northwest Progresso-Flagler Heights CRA is seeking to revise the existing plan to add projects for funding consideration that are not included in its existing plan, even as the new fiscal year began Oct. 1.

According to city documents, CRA officials expect Redevelopment Management Associates to present an outline of proposed changes at the end of November, and to city commissioners for approval in December. The company, formed in 2009 and run by redevelopment consultants Kim Briesemeister and Chris Brown, pitches itself as a way to help cities “reinvent” themselves to attract businesses, jobs and revenue.

The CRA budget for the new fiscal year of 2015-2016 will likely include funds for transportation projects not in the existing plan, Strawbridge said.

He cited two memos from Feldman to commissioners. One outlined an extension of the proposed $50 million WAVE streetcar to a portion of the Northwest Progresso-Flagler Heights area at a cost of $7.5 million. The CRA would make an anticipated annual payment of $870,000, for up to 11 years.

The other memo called for the CRA to pay $197,000 to offset operational expenses for the existing Sun Trolley system in the CRA area.

In the past, the CRA has also funded neighborhood street parties, giving one group up to $142,000, Strawbridge said. He questioned whether that was a proper expenditure under a previous opinion by the Florida Attorney General’s Office, which opined that CRA funds should be used for “bricks and mortar” projects.

Hallandale Beach skyline to change with massive Diplomat expansion

By William Gjebre, Florida 

A rendering of the proposed four-tower project adjacent to the Diplomat Golf Resort and Spa in Hallandale

A rendering of the proposed four-tower project adjacent to the Diplomat Golf Resort and Spa in Hallandale

A proposal for a massive, four-tower project in Hallandale Beach featuring three hotels, 938 rooms and a 250-unit high-rise condominium under the Diplomat brand will be officially unveiled to nearby residents at a meeting Thursday in the city’s Cultural Center.

The four towers will elevate the city’s skyline and represent a significant expansion of an existing 60-room hotel at the Diplomat Golf Resort and Spa, placing its room count on par — and then some — with the nearby 998-room Diplomat Resort and Spa, on Hollywood Beach.

The project is estimated to cost $100 million.

Hallandale city officials said owners of the new mixed-use development, to be called the Diplomat Hotel and Country Club, have said the two facilities are not directly tied and are apparently separate operations. Previously media reports, however, have linked the two to the Thayer Lodging Group of Annapolis, Md.

The two facilities will nonetheless share facilities, with country club visitors being able to use the beach services at the Diplomat in Hollywood beach, whose visitors will be able to use the golf course a short distance away in Hallandale Beach.

In this early planning stage, the biggest challenge facing owner-developer Diplomat Golf Course Ventures LLC is the project’s impact on local traffic.

Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee Miller

Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee Miller

“This is a significant development,” said Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee Miller. “There is fear from the community about traffic.” But, she added, “We will work with the developer to see how to mitigate the impact on the surrounding community.”

“The traffic impact is a big concern,” said City Commissioner Michelle Lazarow, adding little information has been presented to nearby residents to date.

Other commission members, Mayor Joy Cooper, Vice Mayor Bill Julian, Keith London and Anthony Sanders, did not respond to requests for comment.

The developer’s lawyer is Debbie Orshefsky, with Holland & Knight. She did not return phone calls seeking comment, but instead had former State Rep. Joe Gibbons call.

Gibbons said the huge project “will blend in” with the property and surrounding area. Still, he noted “everyone wants to know about the traffic.” He said traffic questions would be addressed at Thursday’s meeting.

Gibbons said the new Diplomat Hotel and Country Club would cost close to $100 million and make Hallandale Beach even more of a tourist destination than it already has become and add to the city’s tax base.

“We will learn more after the presentation,” City Manager Miller said.

The make the project a reality, Diplomat Ventures will be seek various proposed zoning changes. They include establishing a planned development use for the property and rezoning some commercial land for residential use.

Those changes would allow for construction of three hotel towers of 20, 24 and 30 stories, 70,000 square feet of retail and other accessory hotel space and another 30-story residential tower with 250 units. The developer will also seek to rezone six-tenths of an acre near the existing marina to allow for four new single-family homes.

City officials said the 100-acre golf course itself would remain unchanged. All the new construction will take place on 12-15 adjacent acres.

The development group is sponsoring Thursday’s community meeting at 6 p.m. in the Cultural Center, 410 S.E. 2nd Ave.

Hallandale’s Development Review Committee (DRC) and its Planning and Zoning Board will review the project. If the project passes muster there, it is expected to go to the City Commission for approval next year.

The Miami Herald reported in 2014 that Diplomat Ventures, an affiliate of Thayer Lodging Group and Concord Wilshire Management, paid $20 million for the 18-hole golf course and hotel, at 500-501 Diplomat Parkway. The Herald also reported then that another Thayer affiliate, Diplomat Hotel Owner LLC, bought the Diplomat Hotel and Spa for $460 million.

Gibbons said he was unaware of the relationship between the two facilities, but added they are apparently operated separately.

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