Broward Health e-mails detail pressure to complete $71.4 million, no-bid advertising deal

 By Buddy Nevins and Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Zimmerman Advertising's Cypress Creek offices

Zimmerman Advertising’s Cypress Creek offices

A politically connected advertising firm repeatedly pressured Broward Health staff to complete a no-bid, multi-million dollar contract despite the suicide of CEO Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, the deal’s chief proponent.

Numerous Broward Health e-mails obtained by the FloridaBulldog.org show Zimmerman Advertising kept lobbying even the day of El Sanadi’s memorial service, when the hospital district’s staff was in mourning.

At least one Zimmerman executive allegedly sought to apply political pressure by dropping the name of a Broward Health commissioner in an effort to sway the staff into signing the contract.

Among those reported in the same e-mail to be applying that pressure: Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, a Zimmerman employee and former chairman of the Republican Party of Broward County.

Doris Peek is Broward Health’s Information Technology chief and the staff member appointed to negotiate with Zimmerman. The day after El Sanadi’s funeral, she explained the tactics being used in an e-mail to Broward Health’s then-acting CEO Kevin Fusco and General Counsel Lynn Barrett.

“Am I to assume you have spoken to the board member whose name is being used by Zimmerman to press us to move forward? You had planned to call the person on Thursday/Friday after Chip LaMarca told (Zimmerman Senior Vice President) Bert (Sutcliffe) to proceed based on an alleged conversation with this board member. Did you speak to the board member?” Peek wrote on Jan. 30.

“Until we get all the parties on the same call/meeting, this sort of push/pull/full court press will continue. If you did not connect with the board member, I would like to be present to hear the conversation first hand. This hearsay and third party interference is wearing all of us down.”

In an e-mail statement, LaMarca vehemently denied pressuring or interfering with the Broward Health staff.

“These allegations are categorically untrue, full stop. I have never done this and any allegation to the contrary is unequivocally false,” LaMarca wrote.

Zimmerman: No pressure

In response to a request for a comment to Jordan Zimmerman, the advertising agency’s founder, the company released a statement:

“At no time did Zimmerman Advertising pressure any staff member of Broward Health to complete a pending advertising contract after Dr. El Sanadi’s death.”

Republican Gov. Rick Scott appointed each of the volunteer commissioners who oversee Broward Health.

Broward Commissioner Chip LaMarca

Broward Commissioner Chip LaMarca

The e-mails don’t name the board member LaMarca allegedly mentioned. But LaMarca is close to David Di Pietro, the Broward Health board chairman who was suspended last week by Gov. Scott. (Di Pietro sued the governor this week, contending Scott lacked the authority to suspend him.)

In addition to being personal friends with him, attorney Di Pietro has represented LaMarca and raised money and helped with strategy for LaMarca’s re-election effort.

“David DiPietro is a loyal friend and a volunteer who supports my campaign,” LaMarca said.

Broward’s Code of Ethics for Elected Officials forbids county commissioners from lobbying other governments in the county, including the North Broward Hospital District – Broward Health’s legal name. Here’s how the code is worded: “elected officials shall not be employed as a lobbyist or engage in lobbying activities…”

LaMarca, however, denied promoting Zimmerman to Broward Health’s commissioners or staff. He also said he doesn’t fit the ethics code’s definition of a lobbyist because his principal work for Zimmerman is as a community “liaison,” not as a lobbyist. The code narrowly defines a lobbyist as someone who is “principally” employed to lobby on behalf of a person or entity.

“Any allegation that I lobbied Broward Health is not supported by the facts and is a completely false characterization of my position and activities,” he said.

Before accepting employment at the advertising firm, LaMarca asked the county attorney whether his work would be legal under the county’s ethics code. Basing their opinion on what LaMarca told them about his new job, the opinion stated,   “It is our understanding that your offer of employment is not for the principal purpose of you lobbying on behalf of Zimmerman. Accordingly, your employment by Zimmerman is permissible.”

‘A sounding board’

LaMarca did concede that he spoke occasionally about marketing with Broward Health’s chief executive, the late Dr. El Sanadi.

“From time to time, Dr. El Sanadi would contact me as a sounding board to discuss various county and community issues. At times, he invited me to discuss Broward Health’s marketing plan as he was personally interested in having a successful ad campaign for Broward Health,” LaMarca said in his written statement.

“On two occasions, Dr. El Sanadi invited Doris Peek (whom I did not know prior and was not aware of her attendance at our first meeting) into our conversation regarding Broward Health’s marketing plan.”

The Broward Health e-mails, however, indicate LaMarca played a more vital role in the district’s negotiations with Zimmerman Advertising.

The public health care system awarded Zimmerman a contract to handle its advertising and marketing business last May. No other firms were considered other than Zimmerman, whose founder and chief executive Jordan Zimmerman is a generous contributor to Republican candidates.

In December, the firm sought to expand its work to a $71.4-million, six-year agreement. Despite a warning from Broward Health’s then-chief financial officer that the deal was based on phony statistics, Broward Health commissioners agreed to begin the new wider relationship but demanded that measures to judge the effectiveness of the work be incorporated in a new contract to be approved a month later in January.

Commissioners were to vote Jan. 27 to authorize El Sanadi to sign the amended contract, but the vote was canceled after El Sanadi’s suicide four days earlier.

As the January meeting date approached, the e-mails indicate that Zimmerman Advertising was balking at signing any contract tied to its performance.

“Jordan Zimmerman and Chip LaMarca have refused to agree to a performance based contract and I now have to go back to the board for different instructions,” Peek wrote to attorney Barrett on Jan. 15.

Four days later, Peek wrote Barrett again, “The problem is z (Zimmerman) refuses to go at risk with the retainer.”

Zimmerman Advertising’s statement, released by General Manager of Agency Operations Ronnie Haligman, denied Peek’s account.

“Zimmerman did not refuse to sign a performance-based amendment; rather, Broward Health’s outside counsel, David Ashburn, advised Broward Health from entering into a performance-based amendment due to concerns that it would be illegal,” the statement said.

El-Sanadi shot himself in a men’s room in his condominium building on Saturday, Jan. 23. Three days later, while Broward Health’s staff was in mourning, a Zimmerman account supervisor e-mailed a copy of a new Broward Health television ad to Sharn Kee, a Broward Health marketing manager.

Peek’s curt reply, “As you know, the BH leadership has asked Z to hold/cancel all production and distribution of media channels…”

Not giving up

But Zimmerman wasn’t giving up. At 8:42 a.m. on Jan. 29, just hours before El Sanadi’s memorial service, Zimmerman Senior Vice President Bert Sutcliffe wrote to Kee.

“It’s critically important that this spot is approved to release immediately,” Sutcliffe said.

Kee forwarded the Zimmerman e-mail to superiors Fusco, Peek and Barrett with the following note: “Please forgive me for requesting this on such a sad day. But Zimmerman are (sic) pushing us to release this TV spot today.”

Fusco replied the next day, “We can’t authorize spend that exceeds the current contract.” (Fusco was removed as chief executive on March 16.)

Peek e-mailed back to Fusco, “Thank you Kevin for validation of what we concluded over a week ago. “

But Zimmerman continued to push.

On the morning of Feb. 4, LaMarca e-mailed David Ashburn, a Tallahassee lawyer who represents Broward Health. “I’m in Tallahassee on county business and wanted to see if you had a minute to chat. I’m near your office most of the day so just let me know if you have a few minutes. Regards, Chip LaMarca.”

While LaMarca was in Tallahassee, Zimmerman’s Bert Sutcliffe was trying to persuade Broward Health staff to “get aligned” on future advertising for the hospital district, according to a Feb. 4 e-mail.

By now, however, negotiator Peek, under pressure for the past month, seemed to have cooled on Zimmerman.

“My recommendation is to bring BACK IN HOUSE all bill board contracts. That way we have flexibility… and based on previous payment review, Zimmerman rates are greater than the rates we were getting when we negotiated the contracts … correct?” she wrote to Barrett, Ashburn and Fusco on Feb. 16.

Broward Health’s advertising contract remains on hold.

Suspended Broward Health board chairman sues Gov. Scott saying removal not lawful

By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, FloridaBulldog.org 

Gov. Rick Scott, left, and suspended Broward Health board chairman David Di Pietro

Gov. Rick Scott, left, and suspended Broward Health board chairman David Di Pietro

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott suspended Broward Health Board Chairman David Di Pietro citing the “grave concerns” of his chief inspector general that board members might be interfering with her ongoing investigation.

On Tuesday, Di Pietro fought back with an unusual civil lawsuit challenging Scott’s authority to suspend him. The suit also asks a Broward judge to order Scott to reinstate Di Pietro to Broward Health’s board.

“The suspension of Chair Di Pietro was unlawful and wrong, and not within the parameters of the Florida Constitution. Governor Scott lacked authority to suspend Chair Di Pietro,” says the 34-page lawsuit.

Gov. Scott appointed Broward Health’s governing commissioners, including Di Pietro in September 2011. Nevertheless, the complaint says Scott should be required “to demonstrate both his authority and the jurisdictional basis” for Friday’s executive order suspending Di Pietro.

“Petitioner challenges the sufficiency of the legal basis in that there are no identified acts of misconduct attributable to David Di Pietro,” says the complaint, which also asks the court to nullify Scott’s executive order.

Scott’s order the same day suspending Commissioner Darryl Wright was not challenged.

On Tuesday afternoon, hours after the lawsuit was filed, Broward Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips ordered Gov. Scott to show cause at a hearing as to why his executive order should not be invalidated and why Di Pietro should not be reinstated.

Judge Phillips set a hearing date for 10 a.m. on April 8.

“We will review it when we receive it,” Scott’s press secretary, Jeri Bustamante, said of the complaint.

The Fort Lauderdale attorneys representing Di Pietro are Bruce David Green, Brian Y. Silber and Jay Spechler, a former Broward County Court judge.

The complaint is what’s known as a petition for a writ of quo warranto, Latin for “by what authority.” “The writ is the proper means for inquiring into whether a particular individual improperly exercised a power or right from the state,” the complaint says.

The complaint traces the start of the current uproar at Broward Health to a tip Di Pietro says he received in April 2015 about alleged fraud and kickbacks in Broward Health’s purchasing department. Di Pietro immediately reported the information to Broward Health CEO Dr. Nabil El Sanadi who, at Di Pietro’s suggestion, retained experienced Miami fraud investigator Wayne Black to look into the matter, the complaint says.

Black reportedly found evidence of crimes that he then gave to the FBI, while encountering “great resistance and obfuscation” by Broward Health General Counsel Lynn Barrett, who “refused to turn over key evidence to the FBI” including a laptop computer and cell phone “which was conveniently lost.” The laptop, used by fired procurement boss Brian Bravo, was later turned over.

News of the FBI’s involvement went public shortly after Black emailed the board on Jan. 29 about what was happening behind the scenes. The same day, Scott’s Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel notified Di Pietro that she was conducting a review of every Broward Health contract since July 1, 2012.

The board was to discuss Black’s allegations at a Feb. 10 board meeting, but after Barrett recommended the matter not be aired publicly the meeting was deferred. The attorney general’s office later opined that holding a meeting in the “shade” would be illegal.

A week later, with Broward Health “in a serious state of disarray,” DI Pietro suggested that the hospital district’s audit committee recommend hiring the Fort Lauderdale law firm Berger Singerman as independent counsel. Among other things the firm would work with Broward Health’s internal auditor on the Chief Inspector General’s review, the complaint says.

“Berger Singerman was chosen not only for its stellar reputation in the community, but because they are not politically beholden to anyone in Broward Health or the governor’s office,” the lawsuit says.

Broward Health’s board hired Berger Singerman on a 4-3 vote on Feb. 24.

The suit says that between Jan. 23, the day El Sanadi killed himself, and March 16, Di Pietro was contacted by “a variety of Broward Health employees” to express concern about various “legal and regulatory compliance problems and delays in the contracting process causing problems with patient care.”

One of those employees was Chief Compliance Officer Donna Lewis, who said she was “frightened, scared and disgusted” by what was happening and on March 15 urged Di Pietro to move to replace Broward Health CEO Kevin Fusco and fire general counsel Barrett.

That night, Miguel emailed Di Pietro stating that she’d become aware of a move to remove Fusco and Barrett and suggested the move was retaliation, the complaint says.

“In reality, she had no idea why these employees needed to be removed and had no business interfering with the oversight functions of the board.”

The board voted to replace Fusco and put Barrett on a 30 day review plan on March 16.

Two days later, Scott suspended Di Pietro and Wright.

Correction

CORRECTION:

On March 11 the Florida Bulldog incorrectly reported that in October 2014 a Florida limited liability company owned by Palm Beach developer Nicholas Mastroianni II purchased a Manhattan penthouse at 230 East 63rd Street. In fact, the penthouse was purchased by a Delaware limited liability corporation with the same name, 230 East 63rd-6 Trust LLC.

The story also reported that the Florida-based 230 East 63rd-6 Trust LLC donated a total of $50,000 to Floridians for a Strong Middle Class, a super PAC supporting the Senate campaign of Rep. Patrick Murphy, in two contributions on Sept. 2 and Dec. 14, 2015. However, it is not known whether the Florida LLC or the Delaware LLC made the two $25,000 contributions. An attorney for Mastroianni contends that the Delaware LLC made them.  The contribution reports filed by Floridians for a Strong Middle Class do not state which of the two companies made the contributions.

Florida Attorney General demands Broward Health pay $5.3 million for Medicaid fraud

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi

The Florida Attorney General’s office has demanded that Broward Health pay more than $5.3 million to settle state Medicaid fraud claims uncovered during a federal whistleblower investigation.

Broward Health paid $69.5 million to settle the federal case last summer. The arrival of Attorney General Pam Bondi’s ominous demand seeking millions more in state damages comes amid snowballing legal troubles at the beleaguered North Broward Hospital District.

The specific settlement demands $5,325,671, an amount that Bondi’s office said is “recoverable under the Florida False Claims Act.”

“If this matter is not resolved through settlement, we may pursue Florida False Claims Act litigation in Leon County Circuit Court, seeking treble damage and civil penalties of not more than $11,000 for each false claim submitted,’’ says a March 10 letter signed by Assistant Attorney General Jill Bennett.

Bondi’s office released a copy of the letter in response to a public records request from FloridaBulldog.org.

Florida and the federal government share the cost of the state’s Medicaid program, which provides medical coverage to low-income individuals and families.

The letter accuses Broward Health of participating in an illegal scheme to commit Medicaid fraud with nine of its doctors. The letter says Broward Health violated the federal Physician Self-Referral Law, the Florida Anti-Kickback Statute and the Florida False Claims Act.

The state’s allegations mirror the federal Medicare/Medicaid case made against Broward Health.

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

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

The nine physicians whose contracts Florida contends were “improper and in violation of’’ the Physician Self-Referral Law are the same doctors identified earlier in the federal probe. Those contracts date as far back as 2000.

The doctors: orthopedists George Caldwell and Erol Yoldas; cardiologists Michael Chizner, Violeta McCormack, John Rozanski and Ashok Sharma; oncologists Hector Rodriguez-Cortes, Rudolph Roskos and Shazia Zafar.

Bondi’s office declined further comment “as this matter is active and ongoing.”

Broward Health Chairman David Di Pietro said, “We’ll look into the legality of the claim and figure out the best way to resolve it in the best interest of the district.”

FloridaBulldog.org reported in October that the Justice Department had discussed the case with Bondi’s office last June and that Bondi’s office was reviewing the matter.

In advance of the federal settlement, the district’s lawyers cautioned that Bondi could sue to recover Florida’s Medicaid losses from the scheme.

“I don’t think it’s likely,” said attorney Linda Baumann, of Washington, D.C.’s Arent Fox. Still, she said, it was possible if Florida needs “some extra money, because it’s a relatively easy way.”

A ‘scheme of mutual enrichment’

Federal court documents describe the huge Broward Health healthcare fraud as an illegal “scheme of mutual enrichment” between the hospital system and its doctors.

The settlement capped a five-year-old federal investigation that began with a 2010 federal False Claims Act lawsuit filed in secret by whistleblower Dr. Michael Reilly. The government paid the Fort Lauderdale orthopedic surgeon a $12-million reward, or a bit more than 17 percent of the settlement amount.

Broward Health paid Reilly an additional $860,000 for attorney’s fees and costs, bringing the district’s outlay to $70.4 million. That did not include more than $11 million the district has paid to Baumann’s law firm for legal advice in the matter.

The state’s Medicaid damages claim is the latest in a series of recent shocks to Broward Health, a public hospital system that provides services to both paying clients and those who can’t afford to pay.

The late Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, Broward Health's chief executive. Photo: WSVN

The late Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, Broward Health’s chief executive. Photo: WSVN

The first blow came Jan. 23 with the suicide of the district’s CEO/President Dr. Nabil El Sanadi. Two more shocks hit on Jan. 29, the day of El Sanadi’s funeral.

The first came in a letter from Gov. Rick Scott’s Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel, announcing that her office would conduct a review of every contract entered into by Broward Health since July 1, 2012. The second was contained in an email to Broward Health’s board of commissioners from well-known Miami private investigator Wayne Black, who’d been quietly hired by El Sanadi in the spring of 2015 to look into alleged corruption.

Black’s email disclosed the existence of an FBI investigation into possible procurement fraud, kickbacks and other crimes at Broward Health, and asserted that Broward Health General Counsel Lynn Barrett had not cooperated and had withheld evidence. Barrett has denied Black’s claims.

A few weeks later, FloridaBulldog.org reported that a Fort Lauderdale federal grand jury had subpoenaed Broward Health’s records about former procurement officer Brian Bravo and 16 companies that do business with the district. The records sought go back 10 years.

Counsel Barrett generated significant controversy in early February when she advised the board to meet “in the shade,” that is not in public, to discuss Black’s assertions about her. The attorney general’s office later issued an opinion declaring Barrett’s advice to be wrong.

In the following weeks, FloridaBulldog.org disclosed recent plans by Broward Health to award a $71.4 million no-bid contract for advertising to a politically connected advertising firm, Zimmerman Advertising. Months earlier, Zimmerman threw a fundraiser for Broward County Judge Nina Di Pietro, the wife of Broward Health Chairman David Di Pietro.

The Bulldog also reported last month that in 2012 Broward Health’s board of gubernatorial appointees awarded a 25-year, no-bid contract to provide radiation oncology services to a company with financial ties to Gov. Scott. The contract is with 21st Century Oncology, a Fort Myers cancer care company that’s owned by Vestar Capital Partners.

Scott’s financial disclosure files indicate that at the time of the board’s vote to award the contract he owned a $210,000 indirect interest in 21st Century Oncology via his investment in Vestar Capital. 21st Century Oncology later donated nearly $400,000 to Gov. Scott’s re-election campaign.

More controversy followed news that Broward Health Acting President/CEO Kevin Fusco signed deals in February to pay a total of more than $400,000 in hush money to the district’s former chief financial officer who was fired after publicly criticizing the proposed $71.4 million no-bid deal with Zimmerman Advertising. Fusco, whose signing authority is limited to $250,000, did not seek board approval for that deal, or a second deal that paid another executive $537,000 to go away quietly.

On Wednesday, the board voted to replace Fusco as chief executive and installed Pauline Grant as Interim CEO/President. Grant was chief executive of Broward Health North in Pompano Beach.

Di Pietro led a push to fire General Counsel Barrett, but failed on a 4-3 vote of the board. Instead, Barrett was put on a 30-day review plan and her performance will be considered again next month.

Broward Health boots CEO amid staff warnings, new demands for records from Gov. Scott

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Broward Health's new Interim CEO/President Pauline Grant is welcomed Wednesday by Commissioner Christopher T. Ure

Broward Health’s new Interim CEO/President Pauline Grant is welcomed Wednesday by Commissioner Christopher T. Ure

Amid a sweeping new demand for records from the governor’s office, Broward Health’s governing board voted Wednesday to replace its chief executive and put its controversial general counsel on a 30-day review plan.

The votes followed unprecedented warnings from taxpayer-supported Broward Health’s top doctors and non-medical staff that its administration has become so dysfunctional that without help its flagship public hospital, the former Broward General Medical Center, is 30 days away from being forced to shut down.

“Patient care at Broward General is hanging by a thread,” said hospital chief of staff Dr. Louis Yogel.

At the same time, Broward Health’s commissioners listened as two top administrators appeared at the podium on behalf of other employees to demand corrective action by the seven-member board of Republicans appointed by Gov. Rick Scott.

“We support a take-back of Broward Health from the lobbyists, angry bloggers and attorneys,” said Doris Peek, a senior vice president and chief information officer.

Out as Broward Health President/CEO is Kevin Fusco, who remains employed as chief operating officer. Fusco was reported to be sick and could not be reached for comment.

Kevin Fusco was removed Wednesday as Broward Health's Acting President/CEO

Kevin Fusco was removed Wednesday as Broward Health’s Acting President/CEO

Broward Health North Chief Executive Pauline Grant replaced Fusco to audience applause. She was the first woman to lead the North Broward Hospital District.

General Counsel Lynn Barrett, the focus of staff allegations that her mishandling of dozens of service contracts has led to internal chaos, survived a move to fire her. Broward Health Chairman David Di Pietro led the push to get rid of Barrett, an effort that Commissioner Christopher T. Ure compared to a “public lynching.”

Di Pietro couldn’t secure the needed four votes, however, and instead agreed to a compromise that put Barrett on a 30-day review plan. Commissioners will revisit Barrett’s performance next month.

Again and again, ranking Broward Health staffers rose to go public about what they said was an internal climate of intimidation and fear. Morale was said to be as low as it has ever been.

“Frightened, scared, disgusted,” was how Chief Compliance Officer Donna Lewis described the mood. “I have never heard more allegations of retaliation in my 16 years.” She added that she, too, was frightened as contractual and other important matters ground to a halt due to Fusco’s recent absences from Broward Health due to illness and vacation.

“I need resources. I need them badly,” Lewis told the board. “Get us back on track.”

Wednesday’s events played out following the arrival Tuesday afternoon of a letter from the governor’s Office of the Chief Inspector General that dramatically expanded the scope of its Broward Health inquiry.

The letter sought more than half a dozen categories of records, including those regarding “potential or actual” conflicts of interest disclosed since 2012 by Broward Health’s commissioners or administrators, and behind-the-scenes lobbying practices. The letter follows a similar demand from Tallahassee on Jan. 29 that the district turn over every contract it has awarded since July 1, 2012.

State investigators also instructed Broward Health to produce copies of termination agreements signed last month with a pair of former Broward Health executives who were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in hush money authorized by Fusco, the CEO/President ousted Wednesday.

“Complete personnel files” sought

Likewise, Broward Health was told to produce “complete personnel files” for 10 current and former hospital district officials. The letter signed by Investigations Manager Erin Romeiser explained that the information is needed “to provide a full understanding” of their relationship to the hospital district.

Those current Broward Health employees are Fusco, Barrett, Vice President for Physician Practices Maria Panyi, Chief Internal Auditor Vinnette Hall and Vice President/Chief Compliance Officer Donna Lewis. Former employees are compliance officer Mike Palaez, procurement director Brian Bravo, CEO/President Frank Nask, Chief Financial Officer Robert K. Martin and Broward Health Medical Center chief executive Calvin Glidewell.

Martin and Glidewell are the ex-Broward Health officials given deals last month that will pay them a total of $937,000 to keep their mouths shut.

Fort Lauderdale attorney Mitchell Berger, whose firm was hired recently by the district to help it deal with various federal and state investigations, called this week’s demands from the Chief Inspector General “over the top” and an unneeded “distraction” for a hospital district that is seeking to address questions about both its business dealings and its financial condition.

On March 4, for the second time in a month, Moody’s Investor’s Service downgraded the credit rating on Broward Health’s bonds.

The March 15 letter from the Chief Inspector General’s Office sought four other types of records from Broward Health:

  • “Any and all contracts and invoices for legal services and/or investigative services…from 2012 to present.” The information is to include names, dates and types of service and the scope of work.
  • All records, policies, procedures, opinions and legal advice “pertaining to board governance…independence, independence statements and compliance with sunshine laws and/or public meeting rules.
  • Similar records and advice “relating to the separation of authorities of the Board oversight activities versus operational management of Broward Health.
  • All records, legal advice and training materials “regarding the use of ‘shade’ meetings” by Broward Health’s governing board of commissioners or any committee of the board. It added: “Please include a listing of all meetings conducted in the ‘shade’…(and) justification for conducting the meeting or portions of the meeting in the ‘shade’ for the period of 2012 to present.”

Broward Health hospice contractor VITAS denies admission to dying, indigent inmate

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Publicity photo for VITAS Healthcare's inpatient hospice unit at Broward Health North

Publicity photo for VITAS Healthcare’s inpatient hospice unit at Broward Health North

A dying homeless man ordered released from jail Friday so he could be sent for hospice care at Broward Health was instead denied admission to hospice after he refused to sign a form, according to email obtained by FloridaBulldog.org.

Pablo Hernandez, a 65-year-old indigent suffering from terminal liver cancer, was back at the Broward County Jail today, his lawyer said.

Refusing to sign the form wasn’t the only apparent reason Havana-born Hernandez was denied access to hospice. In an email copied to Hernandez’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Lorena Mastrarrigo, Broward Sheriff’s transportation Sgt. Carl Richardt said a nurse had informed him “the onsite hospice provider VITAS (Healthcare) refused him due to him being undocumented.”

Mastrarrigo said BSO Inmate Health Manager Yusimir Arencibia told her Monday that profit was also a motive to deny hospice care to the terminally-ill Hernandez.

“She said VITAS is a for-profit company and they don’t like uninsured, undocumented people,” Mastrarrigo said.

Mastrarrigo’s boss is outspoken Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.

“I am troubled with an indigent hospital contracting out some of their responsibilities and letting the private corporation decide whether to provide services, if that is what is occurring, which it seems to be,” said Finkelstein. “Is it financially or politically motivated, or both? Did (Broward Health’s) board intentionally contract it this way?”

Pablo Hernandez

Pablo Hernandez

The hospice form that Hernandez didn’t want to sign is called a DNR, or “Do Not Resuscitate,” which instructs health-care providers to do no rescue efforts if a patient stops breathing or his heart stops. VITAS, which operates the Hospice Unit at Broward Health North, requires hospice patients to sign a DNR form before they are admitted.

Mastrarrigo said Hernandez speaks little English and may not have understood the form, which he refused to sign a second time on Monday. VITAS manager Elizabeth Jerome said, however, that consent forms are in both English and Spanish.

Jerome referred a reporter to other VITAS officials, but they did not respond before deadline.

Court records show that Hernandez was arrested three weeks ago for violating the terms of his three-year probation for a felony conviction of driving after his license was permanently revoked. He was also jailed for a year.

Hernandez got into trouble last year when he walked away from Miami’s Salvation Army facility, where he’d been living with the court’s permission on March 23, 2015. He was charged with absconding and failing to report or pay various court and probation costs, but police didn’t catch up to him until last month.

Mastrarrigo saw Hernandez at Broward Health North in Pompano Beach on March 9. She described him as being in “good spirits and not in pain.” Two days later, BSO’s Arencibia wrote to say she’s received an update on Hernandez’s condition.

“He continues to decline. He was referred to hospice and hospice has accepted him,” Arencibia wrote. She also inquired as to whether there’d been any discussion regarding getting a judge to release Hernandez from jail. “Historically, hospice will not take him while he remains in custody status.”

Two hours later, Mastrarrigo wrote back. “I was just able to have Judge (Edward) Merrigan sign an order to ROR (release on own recognizance) Mr. Hernandez and to have BSO transport him to hospice based on your representation that he was referred to hospice and they have accepted him.”

But the deal fell apart Saturday with Sgt. Richardt’s email stating that VITAS had refused to admit Hernandez because he was undocumented. On Sunday, Arencibia wrote that when Hernandez “was interviewed by hospice he stated he did not want to sign the DNR form. That is a requirement for hospice!”

Ted Cruz’s Senate campaign refuses to disclose true source of loans

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Ted Cruz running for the U.S. Senate in 2012

Ted Cruz running for the U.S. Senate in 2012

While Ted Cruz was barnstorming Florida last week, the treasurer for his 2012 U.S. Senate bid was refusing to answer a routine inquiry by the Federal Elections Commission to determine where the Texas Republican got the money to loan his Senate campaign as much as $1,000,000.

In a March 8 letter, the Cruz campaign’s Bradley Knippa told the FEC’s reports analysis division, that the campaign cannot fulfill a “Request For Additional Information” (RFAI) about the loans until the elections watchdog agency completes a separate investigation initiated by two complaints filed against Cruz in mid-January. Those cases likely won’t be concluded until next year.

“It is our understanding that the Commission does not send RFAIs during the pendency of a complaint,” Knippa wrote. “Therefore, we intend to file our responses as they relate to this matter in accordance with the agency’s standard practices and procedures.”

Craig McDonald, director of the non-profit Texans for Public Justice, one of the groups that filed a complaint, said the Cruz campaign continues to stall public disclosure that would reveal if major financial institutions Goldman Sachs and Citibank financed his Senate campaign.

McDonald accused Cruz of painting himself as a populist who took on the Wall Street banks when at the same time the same banks secretly funded his senate campaigns.

“This information should have been disclosed in real time so Texas voters could have seen it during his campaign,” McDonald said in an interview. “We believe he deliberately withheld the information because it would have exposed him as a hypocrite.”

Now that Cruz finds himself within striking distance of Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, the senator is not going to address the FEC’s inquiries until after the election, McDonald said.

“No doubt about it,” McDonald said. “If he wasn’t a candidate for president, this information would be quickly forthcoming.”

No comments

Knippa, a certified public account with the Jackson Walker law firm in Austin, Texas, did not respond to a phone message and email on Friday seeking comment. Cruz’s national campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart did not return two emails and two phones messages requesting a response.

In addition to the complaint filed by McDonald’s group, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center filed a joint complaint about a week after Knippa notified the FEC on Jan. 14 that Cruz’s senate committee had “inadvertently omitted” a margin loan from Goldman Sachs valued at $100,000 to $250,000, carrying a 3 percent interest, and two Citibank loans totaling $500,000 to $1 million on campaign finance disclosure reports.

Cruz did disclose the loans on a personal financial disclosure form he filed with the Senate on July 12, 2012, three weeks before his runoff against Texas’ then-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

The disclosures with the FEC and the Senate do not describe the bank loans as being used for the campaign. In previous media reports, spokespeople for Cruz have maintained the omission to the FEC was an oversight and not intentional.

Before the March 10 Republican debate at the University of Miami campus, Cruz made a campaign stop at the downtown campus of Miami Dade College, where he made his pitch to a group of GOP voters that he is the candidate who can beat Trump.

According to the Miami Herald, Cruz told the audience: “If you were a Jeb [Bush] supporter. If you’re a Marco [Rubio] supporter now. If you’re a [John] Kasich supporter: We welcome you to our team.”

Florida education on trial; Lawsuit seeks to redefine public education to benefit poor

By Eric Barton, FloridaBulldog.org flaed

A case that could fundamentally change how Florida funds and administers education is center stage in a trial that begins next Monday in a Tallahassee courtroom.

The lawsuit, brought by a public advocacy group, wants a judge to declare the state’s public education system unconstitutional. Such a ruling could require lawmakers to envision a new way to fund schools that would seek better parity between the rich and the poor.

The trial is expected to be a rebuke of Florida’s public education system. Parents, teachers, school administrators and a slew of experts will seek to prove the state has failed to provide a quality education to public school students.

In its defense, the state will attempt to demonstrate that Florida’s public schools are among the best in the nation. In a written response to inquiries from the FloridaBulldog.org, Meghan Collins, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, claimed the lawsuit “ignores the success we have had in Florida schools.

“Working with local education officials, the state remains focused on providing every student in Florida with the opportunity to receive a great education,” Collins wrote.

Critics, however, say Florida schools fail minority and poor students, a fact that’s reflected in graduation rates.

“There are some serious inequities, especially for African-American students and students where English is a second language, in Florida public schools,” said H. Richard Milner, director of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert for the plaintiffs. “Structures and mechanisms are not in place to make sure poor and minority students are not underserved in the state.”

Leon County Circuit Judge Gene Reynolds III

Leon County Circuit Judge Gene Reynolds III

The non-jury trial that begins March 14, and is likely to last five weeks, will be presided over by Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds III. The trial stems from a lawsuit filed in 2009 by Citizens for Strong Schools. The little-known nonprofit was formed in 2008 in hopes of improving education in Alachua County where it supported a local property tax increase passed by voters to help pay for public schools. It has since raised about $12 million annually.

A constitutional amendment

The suit backers pin their case on a constitutional amendment voters passed in 1998 that declares education of children “to be a fundamental value” and requires the state to make education a “paramount duty.” The amendment says the state must “make adequate provision for a uniform system of free public schools” within “an efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system.”

The amendment, however, doesn’t define what the state must do to live up to that requirement. Using a set of statistics and experts, the plaintiffs contend the state has failed its public school students. Perhaps most damaging to the state’s cause: Florida ranks among the lowest states in the nation in per-pupil funding, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Attorney Neil Chonin Photo: University of Florida, Bob Graham Center

Attorney Neil Chonin
Photo: University of Florida, Bob Graham Center

The lead attorney representing the group is Neil Chonin, a lawyer for 54 years who retired from his Miami firm to work for Southern Legal Counsel, a nonprofit public interest law firm based in Gainesville. The three-attorney office faces a team of lawyers from the Florida Attorney General’s Office. “This is certainly a David versus Goliath case,” Chonin said from his Tallahassee office.

Florida’s lead is Jonathan A. Glogau, special counsel chief of the Attorney General’s Complex Litigation Office. He declined comment, as did the Attorney General’s spokesperson.

Department of Education spokeswoman Collins, in a written response, noted that Florida “has had historic K-12 funding for the last two years.” That repeats a claim Gov. Rick Scott made in October, apparently in reference to the over-all education budget, which supporters say has reached its highest level in recent years.

However, it’s a claim PolitiFact Florida ranked false, because per-student spending is lower than it was in the 2007-2008 school year and is dramatically down when accounting for inflation.

In court documents, the state has indicated it plans to call 16 witnesses, mostly state-level administrators, including Pamela Stewart, the Florida Department of Education commissioner. The state will also use several experts, including from the conservative, but nonpartisan Hoover Institution and the University of Arkansas. Also expected to take the stand in support of the state will be Frank Brogan, chancellor of the Pennsylvania state system of higher education and former Florida lieutenant governor. Brogan didn’t return an email and phone message left at his office, and the state’s other experts declined to comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit.

successA key to the state’s defense will be to insist that it’s reasonable to assume some schools and some students will underperform. “To the extent that deficiencies exist in certain schools, those deficiencies are not caused by nor can they be remedied” by the state, Glogau wrote in Florida’s response to the lawsuit.

The state will also employ statistics to show successes of Florida’s education system. Collins noted in her statement that Florida’s high school graduation rate has increased 18 percentage points since the 2003-04 school year. Over that period, the graduation rate for black and Hispanic students has increased 22 percentage points.

The plaintiffs, however, plan to show that there’s another side to those statistics and that Florida nevertheless remains nine percentage points below the national graduation rate of 80 percent. Only six states and the District of Columbia have lower graduation rates than Florida.

Worse for minorities and poor

Chonin says it’s worse for minorities and the poor. Only 59 percent of black students graduate in Florida, compared to the national average of 67 percent. It’s similar for economically disadvantaged students, with only 60 percent graduating, compared to a national average of 70 percent.

“It blew me away when I first started realizing how many kids in the state can’t read and don’t graduate,” Chonin said. “It’s time we hold the state accountable for failing these kids.”

Milner, the University of Pittsburgh professor, said the case could become a landmark rebuke of public education and could set the standard for similar lawsuits elsewhere in the country.

Rarely has the quality of public education been subject to such a public tribunal, and Milner said the closest comparison may be the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which led to school desegregation. While the Florida case likely won’t lead to any national changes, it could expose flaws in the practice of desegregation, Milner said.

“Schools in Florida are largely still not integrated, with rich white communities providing far better education than poor black schools,” Milner said. “There are still major inequities in public education in Florida, and this lawsuit threatens to expose that.”

Chonin said he can prove at trial that the state has violated the constitutional amendment because it has failed to provide a “uniform and efficient” public school system. The state, Chonin said, funds education using local taxpayers, meaning poorer counties have fewer resources.

“You have counties like Sarasota or Palm Beach that have high property taxes, and then you compare them to Gadsden or Savannah or Jefferson counties,” Chonin said. “Their taxes are far less, and because of that, the performance of their schools can’t compare.”

Jonthan A. Glogau, special counsel at the Florida Attorney General's Office.

Jonthan A. Glogau, special counsel at the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

The plaintiffs will claim the state’s testing methodology is unfair to minorities and serves only to hurt the education process. They have listed 70 potential witnesses, with 40 who could appear in person at the trial. The list includes several instructors. Among them is Alachua County kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles, who refused in 2014 to administer the state’s standardized tests and garnered headlines and public support for her decision. Also expected to testify is Chris Guerrieri, the Jacksonville teacher who writes a blog critical of the state’s education bureaucracy.

School administrators also are expected to take the stand in support of the plaintiffs, including superintendents from Franklin, Hernando, Duval and Alachua counties.

If Citizens for Strong Schools succeeds at the non-jury trial, Judge Reynolds has wide leeway in what he could order. The lawsuit asks the judge to declare that the state has failed to fulfill its constitutional duty to provide a quality education, especially to disadvantaged and minority students. If the judge agrees, he could order the Legislature to rewrite the way education is funded in the state, scrap standardized testing and require new safeguards to assure all students get the same level of education.

Taking sides

Multiple education groups have joined the suit on both sides. Among the groups that oppose portions of the lawsuit is Florida Voices for Choices, which supports voucher programs that allow public school students to attend private schools. Its executive director, former Tampa schoolteacher Catherine Durkin Robinson, says the voucher program lets parents choose the best education model for their children. If lawmakers are forced to create a new funding model for education, voucher programs could be at stake.

“Funding is important, but empowered parents choosing from a robust array of options is more important,” Robinson wrote in an emailed response to questions.

But Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie says the voucher programs have contributed to poor funding for education that has crippled schools in the state. That has meant inadequate salaries for teachers, which leads to more turnover and fewer chances to lure teachers from other professions, he said in a recent interview.

“These are dollars that could positively impact teachers’ salaries and provide a better education for our kids,” Runcie said. “This is not how we should treat the people who are teaching the next generation. Teaching should be a profession like any other where we are providing competitive wages.”

Miami-Dade teacher Liane Harris is expected to testify in support of the lawsuit. She teaches at a Secondary Student Success Center (S3C) in Hialeah, a program for students who have been held behind two or more grades.

In 2014, Harris joined several hundred educators and others in a march in downtown Miami to protest Gov. Scott’s education policies. Harris says the state’s standardized tests have failed low-income kids and cuts from voucher programs have left schools struggling to provide even the basics.

“There are kids being left back, year after year,” Harris said. “These tests and these cuts have failed these children.”

Broward Health CEO paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in hush money to fired execs

By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, FloridaBulldog.org 

Broward Health Acting President/CEO Kevin Fusco, left, with Interim Chief Financial Officer Arthur Wallace III at a recent board meeting.

Broward Health Acting President/CEO Kevin Fusco, left, with Interim Chief Financial Officer Arthur Wallace III at a recent board meeting.

Acting Broward Health President/CEO Kevin Fusco apparently exceeded his spending authority last month when he signed a deal to pay more than $400,000 in hush money to a district executive who was fired after publicly criticizing a proposed $71.4 million, no-bid advertising contract.

The same day, Fusco signed a second deal to pay the fired chief executive of the district’s Fort Lauderdale flagship, Broward Health Medical Center, $537,000 to go away quietly.

The taxpayer-supported public hospital system’s chief executive is authorized to spend $250,000 on his signature alone; anything above that amount requires the approval of Broward Health’s governing board.

Approval for the costly agreements with ex-Broward Health Chief Financial Officer Robert K. Martin and medical center Chief Executive Officer Calvin Glidewell, however, was neither requested by Fusco nor granted by the board, according to minutes and coverage of board meetings.

Fusco did not respond to requests for comment made over several days.

Fusco inked 10-page separation agreements with Martin and Glidewell on Feb. 5, nine days after being named acting president/CEO in the aftermath of the Jan. 23 suicide of Broward Health boss Dr. Nabil El Sanadi. The contracts bear El Sanadi’s name, but his name was crossed out by Fusco when he signed them following El Sanadi’s death.

Martin’s agreement says he was “terminated” Jan. 7, when El Sanadi was in charge. El Sanadi and a majority of the board supported the proposed contract with Fort Lauderdale’s Zimmerman Advertising.

Ex-Broward Health Medical Center Chief Executive Calvin Glidewell, left, and former Broward Health CFO Robert K. Martin

Ex-Broward Health Medical Center Chief Executive Calvin Glidewell, left, and former Broward Health CFO Robert K. Martin

Under the contract, Broward Health will pay Martin his regular salary of $407,930, or about $196 per hour, through Jan. 7, 2017. Martin also got a lump sum payment of more than $17,000 for approximately 87 hours of accrued personal leave, plus a job-hunting service paid for by Broward Health.

In exchange for the money “to which Martin would not otherwise be entitled,” the agreement required Martin to release Broward Health from any legal claims he might have. He also agreed not to “disparage or adversely affect…or work to the detriment of Broward Health.”

The agreement broadly defines Broward Health to include not just the North Broward Hospital District, its legal name, and all related entities, but “current and former commissioners, directors, officers, employees, successors in interest, attorneys, representatives and agents.”

“Martin hereby represents that he has no knowledge of wrongdoing on the part of Broward Health or conduct that might adversely affect Broward Health or any issue of potential liability to Broward Health,” the agreement says.

BREACHES WOULD END PAYMENTS

“Any breaches by Martin will therefore cause Broward Health to immediately cease further payment to him.”

Martin declined to comment.

Glidewell was fired the day after Martin. The district has not publicly discussed why Glidewell was let go.

Glidewell’s deal specifies he’d continue to be paid his regular salary of $445,432, or $214 per hour, through Jan. 8, 2017. He’d also get a lump sum payment of $92,313 for 431 hours of accrued personal leave time, plus up to $10,000 in job search assistance.

To get the money, Glidewell signed the same gag terms as Martin. Any breaches by Glidewell would cause Broward Health to shut off further payments.

Glidewell did not respond to a phone message seeking comment before deadline.

The Broward Health public health system was subsidized last year by about $140 million in property tax revenues. Nevertheless, administrators have repeatedly inserted so-called “non-disparagement clauses” into separation agreements with its executives. The result has been not only a lack of transparency but, in the cases of Martin and Glidewell, a lack of accountability.

Former Broward Health procurement director Brian Bravo, fired in December amid an FBI corruption investigation, got a similar separation agreement on Jan. 7 in which the district agreed to pay his $159,000 salary through next June 14. Bravo also was given a $17,000 lump sum payment for accrued personal leave.

El Sanadi signed the deal on Jan. 7. It included a non-disparagement clause containing the same language as Broward Health’s agreement with Martin and Glidewell.

Wayne Black, a Miami private investigator hired last year by El Sanadi to look into alleged corruption at Broward Health, told commissioners in a January e-mail that Bravo “was bragging about getting $75,000” from the district “to pay his criminal defense attorney.”

Fusco isn’t the first Broward Health president/CEO to apparently exceed his signing authority. As FloridaBulldog.org reported Monday, El Sanadi signed an initial, $2.1 million no-bid annual contract with Zimmerman Advertising on May 5.

Like Fusco, El Sanadi’s authority to sign contracts was limited to $250,000. A review of the minutes of every public Broward Health board meeting in 2015 revealed no indication that Zimmerman’s initial contract was every brought to the board for its consideration.

Advertising mogul threw fundraiser for chairman’s wife amid Broward Health deals

By Buddy Nevins and Dan Christensen FloridaBulldog.org 

Jordan Zimmerman is flanked by Broward Health Commissioners Darryl Wright, left, and David Di Pietro at last June's fundraiser for Judge Nina Di Pietro. Photo: Downtown Photo, Fort Lauderdale

Jordan Zimmerman is flanked by Broward Health Commissioners Darryl Wright, left, and David Di Pietro at last June’s fundraiser for Judge Nina Di Pietro. Photo: Downtown Photo, Fort Lauderdale

Just seven weeks after signing a $2.1 million-a-year no-bid contract with Broward Health, advertising executive Jordan Zimmerman threw a political fundraiser for the wife of the hospital district’s chairman.

Broward County Court Judge Nina Di Pietro, whose husband David Di Pietro chairs Broward Health’s board of commissioners, raised almost $22,000, nearly all of it from lawyers, auto dealers and other non-healthcare companies, campaign records say.

Jordan and Terry Zimmerman, his wife, spent nearly $2,000 hosting the June 25 reception at Zimmerman Advertising’s showcase modernistic headquarters on North Andrews Avenue in Fort Lauderdale.

A few months later, Zimmerman was back before Broward Health’s board seeking approval for yet another advertising deal – this one worth as much as $71.4 million over six years.

That deal, supported by David Di Pietro and a majority of the board, was set for approval at last month’s board meeting, but was put on hold after Broward President/CEO Dr. Nabil El Sanadi’s Jan. 23 suicide.

Broward Health Chief Financial Officer Robert K. Martin opposed the deal at the Dec. 17 board meeting, saying it was based on bogus statistics that made it appear like a good deal when it was not.

Martin was fired Jan. 7. He was later given a settlement agreement that included a large payout and a requirement that he not disparage Broward Health.

No influence?

In an interview, David Di Pietro said Zimmerman’s help for his wife’s campaign didn’t influence his decision to favor awarding the contract to Zimmerman Advertising.

“I don’t run Nina’s campaign. I don’t directly solicit money. I haven’t since she started her campaign,” Di Pietro said. “We had horrible advertising…a football player. I want a marketing strategy so the public knows about the healthcare our doctors and staff provide. Even if it’s not Zimmerman we need a marketing plan.”

Jordan Zimmerman and Judge Nina Di Pietro. Photo: Downtown Photo, Fort Lauderdale

Jordan Zimmerman and Judge Nina Di Pietro. Photo: Downtown Photo, Fort Lauderdale

The money raised for Nina Di Pietro at the Zimmerman fundraiser is a fraction of the $237,968 she had in her campaign account as of the end of January, including $100,000 of her own money.

At least $35,000, however, came from more than 50 donors who self-identify as healthcare firms, physicians or clinics. No other candidate for a county court judgeship, a job that deals with criminal misdemeanors and civil disputes for less than $15,000, has received close to that amount from the healthcare industry.

Judge Di Pietro had an opponent who has since dropped out. She has raised more than double the amount of any other Broward County Court candidate. Likewise, she also has a bigger campaign warchest than veteran politicians like former State Sens. Nan Rich and Steve Geller, who are running for Broward County Commission, traditionally more expensive races.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Nina Di Pietro to the bench on April 30. Because appointed judges run in the first General Election after their appointment, the Zimmerman fundraiser was to finance her 2016 campaign.

Among those attending the fundraiser was County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, a Zimmerman employee and friend and Republican political ally of David Di Pietro; Broward Health Commissioner Darryl Wright; longtime Northeast Broward GOP activist William “Bill” Bucknam; and Levi Williams, former Broward Republican Party general counsel.

Among those contributing $1,000 that day were retired AutoNation president and chief executive officer Mike Maroone, Coral Gables businessman and car dealer Manny Kadre, Kadre’s company MBB Auto Management, and Lighthouse Point lawyer William R. Scherer III.

On May 5, Zimmerman’s firm signed a $2.1 million-a-year advertising contract with Broward Health. The deal is renewable for three years. No proposals or bids were sought from other firms.

Dr. El Sanadi signed the contract on behalf of Broward Health, but appears to have have exceeded his authority in doing so. The signing authority of Broward Health’s chief executive is $250,000; the board must approve deals beyond that. A review of the minutes of every public board meeting in 2015 revealed no indication that Zimmerman’s initial contract was ever brought to the board for its approval.

The agreement placed Zimmerman in charge of all broadcast, print, billboard, digital advertising production and purchasing, plus outreach to the “mainly Hispanic and Creole” minority communities, according to the contract.

A board of Republican activists

Broward Health’s commissioners, who sit on the governing board that David Di Pietro chairs, are all Republican activists appointed by Gov. Scott to run the public health system. Di Pietro was first appointed in September 2011.

Besieged by public and private healthcare competitors, Broward Health has trouble filling its beds with patients paying for elective surgery. The public hospital system’s patient admissions are down nearly three percent and operating revenues are under budget by nearly $29 million this year.

El Sanadi, named president/CEO in December 2014, apparently became convinced that a new advertising strategy was called for.

Sources differ on how Jordan Zimmerman, who had little experience handling marketing for a public health system, suddenly became Broward Health’s potential savior.

Zimmerman said in an interview that former Republican U. S. Sen. George LeMieux, now chairman of the board of the Republican legal and lobbying powerhouse Gunster, introduced him to El Sanadi.

Zimmerman said El Sanadi “believed BH wasn’t performing like it should” and that Zimmerman Advertising could help with a stepped-up advertising campaign.

A majority of the board, including Di Pietro, later agreed.

Zimmerman, using talents described in news releases as “ambitious entrepreneurship, fearless energy and strategy,” built a multi-million-dollar advertising company with a client list that claims the likes of Papa John’s, Party City and AutoNation, but no healthcare firms. Zimmerman is now part of the Omnicon Group.

Before raising money for Judge Di Pietro, Zimmerman was a well-known and reliable donor to Republican campaigns.

In 2012, Zimmerman co-hosted a $25,000-a-plate dinner for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose Broward campaign chairman was David Di Pietro. Last July, Zimmerman co-hosted a $10,800-a-ticket reception for ex-Gov. Jeb Bush’s recent presidential bid.

Page 10 of 44« First...«89101112»203040...Last »

Newsletter

Notify me by email when new stories are published.

Bulldog Archives