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

By Dan Christensen, 

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

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!”

BSO offers answers about El Sanadi’s suicide, but even family can’t explain why

By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, 

Broward Health Chief Executive Dr. Nabil El Sanadi used a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver like this to kill himself on January 23, police say.

Broward Health Chief Executive Dr. Nabil El Sanadi used a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver like this to kill himself on January 23, police say.

Last month’s shocking death by gunshot of Broward Health Chief Executive Dr. Nabil El Sanadi is now officially classified as a suicide, but why El Sanadi killed himself remains a mystery that even his family can’t explain.

In response to a public records request by, the Broward Sheriff’s Office Wednesday released a Homicide Unit report with fresh detail about El Sanadi’s Jan. 23 death at the Sea Ranch Club condominium in Lauderdale-By-the-Sea.

While authorities previously have said El Sanadi committed suicide, they haven’t until now explained why they believe that’s true. The report lays out for the first time answers to lingering public questions about exactly what happened, dispels a persistent rumor of a second shot, and offers one tantalizing new detail about the case.

In sworn interviews with BSO crime scene detectives on that grim Saturday evening, El Sanadi’s wife, Lori, and his father-in-law, Lloyd Freilinger, 78, said that while El Sanadi had recently returned home following heart bypass surgery he “made no statements or comments indicating that he was depressed or intended to harm himself.”

“Lori El Sanadi stated that the victim had not been sleeping well since his surgery and was feeling frustrated with his recovery,” the report says. “She stated that her husband had been stressed about missing work due to the surgery and believed it may jeopardize his position if it was considered a weakness.

“Lori El Sanadi stated that there were many political issues that seemed to cause her husband stress, but nothing that he ever spoke about that would indicate suicidal intent,” the report dated Feb. 23 says.

El Sanadi’s death sent a jolt through Broward’s medical community. Another shock came the day of his funeral when, without explanation, Florida’s chief inspector general, notified Broward Health that with Gov. Rick Scott’s full support she would review every contract the troubled hospital district has awarded since July 1, 2012.

More unsettling news followed early this month about a joint FBI and Fort Lauderdale federal grand jury investigation into alleged corruption in Broward Health’s procurement department, shaking the taxpayer-supported public hospital system to its core.

El Sanadi’s sudden death just 14 months into his tenure as boss of the North Broward Hospital District was, in its immediate aftermath, a puzzle with many missing pieces. Today, it’s still a puzzle, yet is also the backdrop for Broward Health’s burgeoning scandal.

The report shows that BSO detectives looked for the missing pieces of the puzzle.

The last person to see El Sanadi alive

Freilinger, the last person to see El Sanadi alive, told them that about nine days earlier El Sanadi went to the hospital after suffering indigestion and was diagnosed with “serious cardiac issues.” El Sanadi underwent bypass surgery on Jan. 16, and spent five days in the hospital before being released on Thursday, Jan. 21 with a monitoring system and a home health care nurse. That was two days before his death.

Freilinger, who lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told detectives that El Sanadi took his surgery very hard because he’d not been ill much in his life. On the morning El Sanadi killed himself a monitor he was using alerted to indicate his blood pressure was too high. El Sanadi took medicine, his blood pressure returned to an acceptable level, yet he “seemed to be very upset and disappointed” and restless, Freilinger said.

Lori and Nabil El Sanadi at last May's Third Annual Broward Health Ball

Lori and Nabil El Sanadi at last May’s Third Annual Broward Health Ball

Lori El Sanadi was out grocery shopping that Saturday afternoon and Freilinger recalled watching El Sanadi pace around the residence.

“El Sanadi eventually asked Freilinger if he wanted to walk with him downstairs to check his mailbox,” the report says. Freilinger asked to bring the dog as El Sanadi often liked to do, but El Sanadi said to leave the dog in the residence.

Downstairs, El Sanadi, 60, retrieved the mail and handed it to Freilinger before saying he needed to use the lobby restroom. Freilinger, who knew El Sanadi owned handguns but did not see him carrying one then, waited outside and saw no one else enter or exit the restroom while El Sanadi was inside, the report by BSO Detective Zack Scott says.

“A short time later, Freilinger heard a noise coming from inside the restroom that he described as sounding like a door slamming,” the report says. The elderly man went quickly inside and found El Sanadi lying on his left side on the floor with his head toward the restroom entrance.

“Freilinger stated that he observed blood surrounding El Sandi and initially thought that he had fallen against the restroom counter causing his chest sutures to open,” the report by BSO Detective Zack Scott says.

Freilinger ran to the security desk where a guard called 911. He then ran back to the restroom and tried to rouse El Sanadi, rolled him on his back and attempted CPR rescue breathing.

The report does not say when 911 was called, but does say police and paramedics were dispatched at 3:40 p.m. in reference to a person who had fallen. Arriving paramedics saw what appeared to be a single gunshot wound to the chest. They cut away El Sanadi’s clothing and exposed a rectangular, bloodstained bandage just below his sternum where post-surgery drains had been placed. No other trauma was found.

.38 found in El Sanadi’s pants pocket

Paramedics also “noticed what appeared to be a handgun protruding from the right front pocket” of El Sanadi’s black sweatpants. The weapon was later determined to be El Sanadi’s Smith & Wesson Model 642 .38 caliber revolver, loaded with the maximum five cartridges. Only one bullet, from the cartridge beneath the hammer, had been fired.

The paramedics pronounced El Sanadi dead at 3:59 p.m.

Broward Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Mallak made a physical examination of the body on scene and agreed with detectives “the physical evidence was consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.” Mallak ruled the manner of death was “suicide,” the report says.

Broward Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Mallak

Broward Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Mallak

Mallak also offered an explanation for why El Sanadi’s gun was found in the pants pocket of his corpse.

“He stated that although the gunshot wound to the heart area was a lethal wound, the victim would still be responsive for a short period of time before blood loss would cause him to be incapacitated,” the report says. “This would mean that El Sanadi would still be conscious long enough to place the handgun into his pocket after shooting himself before collapsing.”

Detectives looked at the crime scene for signs of foul play. They noted the lobby restroom where El Sanadi was found has no windows or other points of entry besides the door. Further, they reviewed video surveillance of the lobby restroom area that showed El Sanadi and Freiling entering the lobbying, going to the mailbox alcove and then El Sanadi entering the restroom, alone.

“Freilinger can be seen standing in the hallway and using the water fountain. No other individuals are seen in the restroom area,” the report says. A minute and 21 seconds later, “Freilinger can be seen turning suddenly towards the restroom and then he enters. No other individuals are seen in the restroom area.”

The video goes on for another eight minutes. “At no point during any of the recorded footage does anyone exit or enter the restroom except for the victim, (the unidentified security guard), and Freilinger,” the report says.

Detectives also searched El Sanadi’s residence for a note or other clues that might show why he did it. In his bedroom closet they found “a large assortment of firearms and ammunition” and an empty holster “that appeared to belong to the revolver found in the victim’s possession at the time of his death.”

El Sanadi, who held a valid concealed weapons permit at the time of his death, purchased the gun in 2010, the report says. The name of the person who sold the gun to El Sanadi, as well as another individual in the ownership chain that began in 2006 when the weapon was first sold by a now defunct firearms business in Delray Beach, were blanked out before the report was released.

The detectives likewise conducted a “cursory search” of El Sanadi’s laptop, finding “no motive for suicide.” Detective Scott did a similar light search of El Sanadi’s two cellphones, one personal and the other “used primarily for issues involving Broward Heath.”

“I reviewed the victim’s communications on the days leading up to his death and the morning of, but found nothing indicating his intent to commit suicide,” the report says. Detectives intended to return the phones to Lori El Sanadi later, Scott wrote.

Horrific police frame-ups that Broward State Attorney Michael Satz won’t investigate

By Dan Christensen, Florida 

Jerry Frank Townsend

Jerry Frank Townsend

Last week’s manslaughter indictment of Broward County deputy sheriff Peter Peraza for the 2013 killing of Jermaine McBean marks a watershed in the tenure of Broward State Attorney Michael Satz – the first time in 36 years his office is prosecuting a police officer in a fatal police shooting.

The indictment also serves as a reminder of unresolved injustices at the hands of other Broward police officers.

Jerry Frank Townsend spent 22 years in prison for a string of sex murders he did not commit. Satz’s office put Townsend away in 1980 using the testimony of BSO homicide detectives who framed him, court records show. Townsend was cleared by DNA testing and freed from prison in 2001.

What happened to Townsend is strikingly similar to what happened to Anthony Caravella, another mentally challenged Broward man who spent 25 years in prison for murder before DNA testing led to his release in September 2009. A federal civil jury later found that two Miramar police officers had coerced a 15-year-old Caravella into confessing and withheld evidence that would have cleared him.

Neither State Attorney Satz nor the police investigated the police officers involved in those miscarriages of justice.

What happened to Townsend was the focus of the Florida Bulldog’s first story published on October 29, 2009. The story, with updates, follows:


Once upon a time Jerry Frank Townsend was South Florida’s deadliest serial killer and rapist.

Broward Sheriff’s Office and Miami Police Department homicide detectives said it was so. Townsend, a grown man with the mental capacity of a child, confessed to nearly two dozen sex murders, they said.

Convicted of six brutal murders and a rape in 1980, Townsend was sent to prison for life. He remained behind bars for 22 years, until he was exonerated by DNA tests that didn’t exist when he was arrested.

The police frame-up of Townsend continues to haunt both BSO and county taxpayers. The Sun-Sentinel reported last month [September 2009] that BSO agreed to pay $2 million over the next five years to settle a Broward civil rights lawsuit brought on Townsend’s behalf. Miami paid $2.2 million in 2008 to end a similar Townsend suit filed in federal court. The public spent at least $1 million more on defense lawyers for the officers who were involved.

Broward State Attorney Mike Satz

Broward State Attorney Mike Satz

Broward State Attorney Michael Satz, once quick to prosecute Townsend on scant evidence, moved to set aside Townsend’s convictions after the DNA tests cleared him, but conducted no criminal investigation of the police whose testimony put Townsend in prison. Satz spokesman Ron Ishoy said Wednesday that prosecutors reviewed “the entire Townsend case even before the DNA testing” but “did not uncover any evidence to suggest” a frame-up.

Had an actual investigation been made, however, Satz would have found a disturbing record replete with clear and convincing evidence of specific crimes by BSO detectives and other officers, including perjury and the falsification of police reports.

Broward court records, including the lawsuit and the original trial and hearing transcripts, lay out in chilling detail how multiple murder charges were apparently trumped up against Townsend. The irrefutable DNA evidence that exonerated him implicates the detectives.


The Broward case against Townsend was driven by two BSO detectives, Mark Schlein and Anthony Fantigrassi. According to the lawsuit, they pinned the murders on the weak-minded Townsend to advance their careers.

Former BSO homicide detectives Tony Fantigrassi, left, and Mark Schlein

Former BSO homicide detectives Tony Fantigrassi, left, and Mark Schlein

In Florida, there is no statute of limitations on perjury in an official proceeding that relates to the prosecution of a capital felony. But like Satz, BSO did not investigate what its detectives did to Townsend.

Indeed, in 2001, then-Sheriff Ken Jenne promoted Fantigrassi from captain to major as the Townsend case was falling apart.

“They weren’t interested,” said Townsend’s Fort Lauderdale attorney, Barbara Heyer.

Fantigrassi retired as head of BSO’s Criminal Investigations Unit in 2005. Schlein, an attorney, is a lieutenant colonel in charge of insurance fraud investigations for the Florida Department of Financial Regulation. [In 2015, Schlein is an attorney in Washington, D.C.]

Upon Townsend’s release in June 2001, media attention focused on the four days of nearly non-stop interrogation he endured as detectives allegedly coached and rehearsed him into falsely confessing to crimes he did not commit. The Miami Herald and Sun Sentinel also reported how detectives stage-managed confessions through the use of selective tape recording.

The bad press caused BSO policy to change in 2003. Spokesman Jim Leljedal said that ever since the agency has required full audio or video recordings of all “interviews of arrested persons and most victims and witnesses.”

Proving that such police misconduct is a crime is difficult. But testimony made in court proceedings under oath and in signed police reports offer prosecutors more straightforward evidence.

At trial, ex-partners Schlein and Fantigrassi both testified Townsend led them to the scene of four Broward murders, and provided them with details only the killer would have known.


But Townsend wasn’t the killer. So the detectives’ damning testimony takes on new meaning.

On the witness stand Schlein and Fantigrassi recounted how they followed Townsend to crime scenes, including the Dillard High School athletic field where 13-year-old Sonja Marion was raped and murdered. Schlein also testified Townsend identified the weapon he used to kill the teenager.

Sonja Marion

Sonja Marion

“The words he used – I’m not absolutely positive – but [Townsend] hit her in the head with a brick that he had gotten from that cement patch,” Schlein said, according to the 1980 trial transcript.

At a pre-trial hearing on a motion to suppress evidence, the detectives gave graphic testimony regarding Townsend’s alleged story about the murder of Terry Cummings.

“He indicated, number one, that when he initially struck her in the vicinity of the shack her wig had fallen off. That wig was in fact recovered immediately outside the shack,” said Schlein. “In addition to that he indicated that when she threatened to scream or began to scream he removed a very large – like a knee sock, which was red and white in color, and stuck it deep into her throat. This is consistent with the way the body was originally found.”

Fantigrassi offered more detail about Townsend’s “confession.”

“He looked down at the ground and said, ‘I used her bra to kill her.’ He made mention that he used a sock in her mouth to keep her from being heard, screaming. He drew a diagram in the sand for us of where the structure was, how it was located and how the position of the body laid in the structure. He pinpointed which direction the head was, which way the legs were, how the legs were. He made mention of a hand he had placed up on – the left hand, that he had place up on her pants.”

Police reports written and signed by Schlein contain many of those same statements. His Sept. 12, 1979 report adds this flourish: “Townsend stated that he placed her left hand on her hip, “to make her look like she pulled down her pants.’”

Townsend, of course, could not have known any details from the crime scene attributed to him by Schlein and Fantigrassi. DNA tests prove conclusively he did not kill Sonja Marion or Terry Cummings, and identify the real killer as Eddie Lee Mosley.

Schlein declined to discuss his testimony or his police reports.

“I’m not going engage in this exercise,” Schlein said before hanging up the telephone.

In an interview, Fantigrassi stuck by his original testimony and said he never lied to convict Townsend.

“I still vividly remember standing in that crowd with the Miami detectives and Mark and listening to [Townsend’s] story and him making the comment about the color of the sock in the mouth,” he said. “How did he get that specific information? I don’t know. I can just tell you I remember hearing it from him like it was yesterday.

“And to this day, how he got that information I don’t know. But he didn’t get it from me, and he didn’t get it from Mark. We are both cut from the same cloth. We don’t play around like that,” said Fantigrassi, who lives in Southwest Ranches.


The Townsend lawsuit alleged a sweeping pattern of police misconduct, including perjury, witness and evidence tampering, obstruction of justice and a racketeering conspiracy in which detectives and successive administrations covered up police wrongdoing.

In pre-settlement court filings, BSO’s attorneys argued the agency and its detectives acted in good faith.

The terms of the $2 million settlement are confidential, except for the payout numbers which were filed in Townsend’s guardianship case.

Police misconduct in Townsend’s case paralleled what happened to Anthony Caravella.

In 1983, when he was 15, Caravella confessed to the rape-murder of Ada Jankowski in Miramar. He was released from prison under supervision in September 2009 after DNA testing excluded him as the source of sperm found on Jankowski’s body. He was later fully exonerated.

In 2013, a federal civil jury found that former Miramar police officers William Mantesta and George Pierson had coerced Caravella into confessing and withheld evidence that would have cleared him. They were ordered to pay $7 million. State Attorney Satz did not investigate.

Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida, said police should be held accountable under Florida’s law that allows a witness in a capital case to be charged with perjury if they recant their testimony.

“If we don’t apply those standards to folks in law enforcement then it allows them to act with impunity,” Miller said.

Eddie Lee Mosley

Eddie Lee Mosley

Eddie Lee Mosley, linked by DNA to four murders once attributed to Townsend, is believed to be responsible for 41 rapes and 17 murders, according to the lawsuit. The crimes occurred between 1973 and 1987, when Mosley was declared incompetent to stand trial for the 1983 Christmas Eve rape-murder of Emma Cook and confined to a state mental hospital for the criminally insane.

In the summer of 1979, when Mosley was free, police were under intense pressure to catch the brutal serial killer terrorizing predominantly African-American neighborhoods in northwest Fort Lauderdale and nearby unincorporated areas.

Townsend’s Sept. 5 arrest in Miami as he walked home near the scene of an assault on a prostitute offered Broward detectives an opportunity to close multiple murder and rape cases. To make it happen, detectives testified falsely and ignored exculpatory evidence like independent alibi witness statements that put Townsend elsewhere at the time of some murders, according to court records.


The BSO detectives also turned a blind eye on the real killer.

Former Fort Lauderdale Police Detective Doug Evans. Evans died in 2011

Former Fort Lauderdale Police Detective Doug Evans. Evans died in 2011

Three weeks before Townsend’s arrest, Eddie Lee Mosley, known around his northwest neighborhood as “The Rape Man,” was identified as the prime suspect in rape-murder cases in Fort Lauderdale’s jurisdiction.

At an interagency meeting, Fort Lauderdale Detective Doug Evans laid out the case against Mosley, including the eyewitness testimony of surviving rape victims and a unique shoeprint found at the Cummings death scene.

At trial, Fantigrassi told Townsend’s defense lawyer under cross examination that Evans had an “irrational vengeance” against Mosley.

“He would pursue him to no end. Any time any sort of homicide investigation broke out, he wanted us to check out Eddie Lee Mosley,” said Fantigrassi. “And as a precaution, when I was investigating the ’79 cases I did just that. I did check Eddie Lee Mosley. I discarded him as a suspect.”

Fantigrassi’s decision cost Townsend 22 years of his life. It also left Mosley free to continue to rape and kill.

tenwhowouldnothavediedThe murders of 10 young African-American women and children that occurred between the day of Townsend’s arrest in 1979 and the day Mosley was taken off the streets for good in 1987 are now linked to Mosley, according to the lawsuit.

One of them was 8-year-old Shaundra Whitehead of Fort Lauderdale, who was raped and fatally beaten in her bed in 1985.

But there were other victims, including the man State Attorney Satz’s office helped send to Death Row for Shaundra’s murder, Frank Lee Smith.

Smith spent 14 years in prison before dying of cancer on January 30, 2000. Eleven months later, he was exonerated by DNA tests that identified Mosley as Shandra’s killer.

Broward prosecutor: BSO’s probation plan jeopardizes safety, victim’s rights

By Dan Christensen, 

Broward County Courthouse

Broward County Courthouse

In a challenge to judicial authority, the Broward Sheriff’s Office is again pushing a scheme that would allow BSO, not judges or state law, to determine the reporting terms for county court defendants placed on probation.

BSO’s controversial idea, intended to cut probation costs, fizzled a year ago after it became known that defendants were being allowed to report less frequently than ordered by the court. In a Nov. 10 memo to all county court judges, however, BSO resurrected the idea, saying it “will become effective January 1” if they go along.

Once again, Broward County Court Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren is blowing the whistle. In an email to colleagues and others last month, she called BSO’s idea “legally unenforceable and contrary to the law.”

Lerner-Wren has a formidable ally this go-round.

In unusual pushback against the sheriff’s office, Broward Chief Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus wrote a two-page letter to Chief Judge Peter Weinstein last week objecting to BSO’s proposed new “Order Placing Defendant on Probation” and warning it would jeopardize both the legal rights of victims and the safety of the community.

“The State Attorney’s Office agrees with Judge Lerner-Wren’s position in his matter,” Marcus said.

Broward County Court Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren

Broward County Court Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren

Weinstein did not respond to a request for comment.

BSO’s Department of Community Programs oversees probation. It would save money by reducing how often defendants convicted of misdemeanor offenses like driving under the influence (DUI) must appear at a local probation office.

BSO released a Nov. 30 letter sent by David Scharf, the department’s executive director, to Weinstein thanking him for facilitating an earlier meeting with County Court Administrative Judge Sharon Zeller to discuss the court’s decision to “approve” the revised probation order. No administrative order approving the change was issued, however.

Zeller could not be reached for comment.

Probation Manager Pearlie Meisel’s memo says that under the new regiment the probation division would determine the number of times a probationer must report using “a comprehensive validated risk assessment.” The assessment would then be forwarded to a judge for their signature.

“If for any reason you decide the selected supervision level is not agreeable, please signify your preference of supervision on the probation order before signing,” Meisel’s memo instructs the judges.


Scharf, Meisel’s boss, explained the practice known as “dosage probation” in an interview last year. He said it is rooted in “evidence-based decision making” involving the use of “objective risk assessment” criteria to determine whether an offender is high, medium or low risk.

In the past, BSO has used that formula to determine, without court input, how many doses, or times, someone on probation must physically report to a probation officer. When Lerner-Wren chanced to spot the unapproved practice in her court last year – BSO allowed a defendant ordered to appear before a probation officer once a month to show up every two months – she signed an order banning it in her courtroom.

The matter seemed to fade away when County Court Administrative Judge Sharon Zeller expressed concern about the legality of the practice in a memo to all criminal division judges last December.

But Meisel’s memo last month stirred the pot.

On Dec. 7, after hearing from Lerner-Wren, the State Attorney’s Office joined the fray.

Noting that probation is often imposed on defendants convicted of DUI, prosecutor Marcus told Judge Weinstein, “It is our position that Florida Statute 316.193(5) mandates that the defendant be placed on “monthly reporting probation … if a defendant is placed on a level of supervision which mandates that they report every other month as proposed in the new Order of Probation, his will be in violation of the statute.”

Marcus said that prosecutors are concerned about “inadequate” levels of supervision. He said offenders allowed to report every other month will not have “the same level of drug and alcohol testing that accompanies most of our probationary sentences” and that “the safety of the community could be jeopardized.”

“Of special concern are the recidivist DUI offenders who are sentenced routinely to the most intense levels of supervision,” Marcus wrote.

Marcus said, too, his office has other concerns about the delay caused by the “comprehensive risk assessment” because the level of supervision will not be announced in open court at the time of sentencing.

“As you are aware, all conditions of probation must be announced at the time of sentencing in order to be considered enforceable,” Marcus said.

“Finally, in many instances we have victims who are present in court at the time of sentencing. If the court sentences someone to a specific level of supervision based on a statement of the victim, and then a determination is made by a probation specialist after the fact, without the benefit of knowing about the victims’ wishes, we are concerned that the victim’s rights” under state law “may be jeopardized,” he said.

Back to the future: Bill would bring back disgraced office of Miami-Dade Sheriff

By Dan Christensen, 

T.A. "Tal" Buchanan, Miami-Dade County's last sheriff. Voters abolished the sheriff's office after his indictment on corruption charges in 1966.

T.A. “Tal” Buchanan, Miami-Dade County’s last sheriff. Voters abolished the sheriff’s office after his indictment on corruption charges in 1966.

A bill that would resurrect the office of Miami-Dade Sheriff, a post abolished by voters 49 years ago in the wake of scandal, is winding its way through the Florida House.

The measure and a companion bill in the Senate seek to amend Florida’s Constitution to strip charter counties of their authority to change the way certain county officers – often called constitutional officers – are selected.

Specifically, House Joint Resolution 165 and Senate Joint Resolution 648 require that county sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors and clerks of the circuit court be elected. The bills would also limit the ability of counties to abolish those five posts and transfer their duties.

The bill, seen by some as a way to ensure more locally elected jobs for term-limited legislators, would most significantly impact the governments of Miami-Dade and Volusia counties. Both of those counties abolished the constitutional offices of sheriff, tax collector, supervisor of election and property appraiser decades ago and transferred their powers elsewhere.

Broward would be required under the new scheme to reinstate the county tax collector as an elected constitutional officer, unless the county decides instead to seek to abolish the constitutional office through a special act passed by voters. Broward’s tax collector was abolished and his duties were transferred to the Finance and Administrative Services Department as part of broad charter changes in 1974.

Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, is sponsoring the measure in the House. Sen. Travis Hutson R-Palm Coast, is the sponsor of the Senate version which is set for a 1 p.m. hearing on Dec. 1 before the Committee on Community Affairs.

Rep. Frank Artiles,R-Miami, wants to amend Florida's Constitution to require counties to elect sheriffs, property appraisers and other constitutional officers

Rep. Frank Artiles,R-Miami, wants to amend Florida’s Constitution to require counties to elect sheriffs, property appraisers and other constitutional officers

Hutson did not respond to a request for comment. Artiles, however, confirmed in an interview that if Miami-Dade voters vote to elect a new sheriff, Republican or Democrat, he or she would assume the power and duties now held by Miami-Dade’s police director.

Artiles said his bill is intended to end intergovernmental conflicts of interest, ensure the separation of powers, and restore “accountability and transparency” by making those five constitutional offices directly responsible to voters.

“What it boils down to is the bill is about giving the power to the people, direct representation through the county officers as originally placed in the Florida Constitution” in 1885, Artiles told members of the House’s Local Government Affairs Subcommittee on Nov 4.


In an interview with last week, Artiles said it was “idiotic” to think his bill is about creating jobs for legislators forced to depart Tallahassee because of term limits.

“I have no interest whatsoever in running for a constitutional office in Miami-Dade County, nor am I doing this for anybody or anyone to run for another position,” Artiles said.

The subcommittee voted 11-0 to adopt the joint resolution. The House Judiciary Committee is set to take up the matter this week, Artiles said.

Miami-Dade County and the Florida Association of Counties are leading the fight against Artiles’ bill at the Capitol. Jess McCarty, an assistant Miami-Dade county attorney and county lobbyist, calls it a flawed, “one-size-fits-all” approach.

“Our biggest concern is that the state could impose this even if Miami-Dade voted against it,” McCarty said in an interview. “I think most residents would be very concerned about people a long distance from here imposing a form of government.”

Missing from both the debate and a 10-page House staff analysis of Artiles’ bill is an examination of the history behind the various systems of local government that have evolved since 1885, or a review of the events that drove the changes the counties adopted.

In Miami-Dade, for example, systemic corruption led to both the indictment of Sheriff T.A. “Tal” Buchanan and voter approval of a referendum abolishing the sheriff’s office in 1966.

Miami Herald organized crime reporter Hank Messick

Miami Herald organized crime reporter Hank Messick

James Savage is a retired investigations editor for the Miami Herald. As a young reporter, Savage covered those events with Hank Messick, the noted organized crime writer whose crusading stories set the stage for reform.

“I cannot believe that anybody in their right mind would propose reinstating the sheriff’s office in Dade County,” Savage said last week. “There was a whole history of corrupt sheriffs that came before Buchanan… In my 40 years as an investigative reporter, getting rid of the elected sheriff was probably one of the best things we accomplished.”

If three-fifths of each house of the Legislature approves, Artiles’ proposed constitutional changes would be presented to voters statewide next November. The Constitution requires 60 percent voter approval for passage.

The reinstated constitutional officers would be filled in the 2018 general election, unless counties sought instead to pass a special act to abolish them and transfer their powers through a special referendum to be voted on by county citizens.


In Miami-Dade today, the mayor appoints both the director of the Miami-Dade Police Department and the director of the county Elections Department, which decades ago subsumed the old Supervisor of Elections. The mayor and the clerk of courts jointly appoint the director of the county’s Finance Department, which absorbed the tax collector’s duties.

Miami-Dade voters still elect an independent court clerk, currently Harvey Ruvin, and a property appraiser, now Pedro J. Garcia, who decides the taxable value of residential and commercial property. Garcia, however, is not an independent constitutional officer. Rather, he is a department head for the county.

Artiles was asked if he knew of any systemic abuses that gave rise to his bill. He said he knew of none except “the issue of the (Miami-Dade) property appraiser being beholden to the county commission that sets the tax rate for the county.”

There are 67 counties in Florida, 20 of which have adopted home rule charters. Artiles said his bill directly impacts only eight of those counties – Brevard, Broward, Clay, Duval, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola and Volusia – that by charter change or special act have altered the way at least one of their five constitutional officers is chosen or restructured or abolished those posts.

In all eight, the changes included the transfer of constitutional powers away from the court clerk, according to the House analysis.

In Miami-Dade the clerk’s duties as financial recorder and custodian were transferred to the Department of Financial Services, and the clerk’s auditing duties were transferred to the Commission Auditor. In Broward, the clerk’s constitutional duties as clerk of the county commission were transferred to the county administrator.

If approved, the joint resolution would require charter counties that have changed the authority of their constitutional officers to revise their charters and ordinances to conform to the new law.

The House analysis estimates Florida’s print and advertising costs to place the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot would be about $100,000.

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.

Sex offender convinces appeal court to reverse Broward judge

By Dan Christensen, 

Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach

Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach

Every day, state prisoners flood Florida’s courts with appeals and pleadings about their cases that they’ve written themselves. Those pro se filings – Latin for “on his own behalf” – rarely get far.

This spring, however, an inmate sex offender serving a life sentence convinced the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach that a Broward judge erred when she failed to order prosecutors to explain potentially serious discrepancies about his Miranda rights warning form.

The state introduced the Miranda form as evidence at Charles D. Williams’ 1998 trial, but Williams contends the document was a fraud and that police forged his signature. For years, Williams and his family filed public records requests seeking to obtain a copy.

“After serving multiple requests to the Broward County Clerk and the State Attorney’s Office over a course of years, his brother finally obtained a copy of a Miranda waiver form,” says the unanimous order by a three-judge appeal panel. “The date on the form produced differed from the date on the form introduced at trial, and the signature on the form produced varied from the petitioner’s signature.”

The panel ordered Broward Circuit Judge Lisa Porter to require prosecutors and the clerk’s office to respond to the “factual issue of whether the form produced is the same as the form introduced at trial.” If the response doesn’t resolve the matter, Porter was instructed to “hold an evidentiary hearing.”

Imprisoned sex offender Charles D. Williams

Imprisoned sex offender Charles D. Williams

The court issued its mandate to Judge Porter on June 12 after denying a request for reconsideration by Florida Assistant Attorney General Richard Valtunas, who in previous court papers called Williams’ assertions “outlandish allegations of fraud and skullduggery.” The judge had not taken action as of Monday.

Williams, who next week turns 76, was a longtime Pompano Beach resident when Broward Sheriff’s detectives arrested him in 1996 on multiple counts of sexually battering or molesting his teenage stepdaughter. He was convicted after a three-day trial in March 1998. His conviction was upheld on appeal.

Starting in 2006, Williams and his family began filing public records requests for a copy of the Miranda waiver form presented by the state as evidence at his trial. After repeated visits and phone calls, Clerk Howard Forman’s office advised that it didn’t have the form in their file. Meanwhile, the State Attorney’s Office provided a copy, but Williams claims it wasn’t the same form the state used at trial and that the signature on it isn’t his signature.

Williams, housed at the Department of Correction’s South Florida Reception Center in Doral,  petitioned Broward Circuit civil Judge John Bowman in 2011 to compel the state to produce a “true” copy of his Miranda waiver form. He based his claim on the signature discrepancy and “trial testimony from a police officer in which the officer referred to the document as an ‘Affidavit of Conform’ and described the rights on the form differently than as written on the ‘Waiver of Counsel’ form provided by the State Attorney’s Office to his brother,” according to the appellate decision.

Bowman found Williams’ petition legally sufficient and transferred the matter to Porter in the criminal division, where it sat for three years until Porter denied it and entered an order prohibiting Williams from further pro se filings.

“Because the petition established a legally sufficient basis for relief, as determined by the civil court judge, the criminal court judge erred in denying the petition,” the appeal court’s decision says.

The tragic story of Josh Stein: A sick tortoise, an urge to help and a fatal trip through Broward’s Felony Mental Health Court

Josh Stein, a mentally troubled man of 38, died of an apparent accidental drug overdose the day after Christmas.  Broward’s elected public defender, Howard Finkelstein, says Stein’s death can be traced to anxiety and stress caused by “cattle car justice” meted out in Broward’s Felony Mental Health Court. In a letter last week to Chief Judge Peter Weinstein, Finkelstein chronicled Stein’s journey through the system after his burglary arrest in July 2013 for an ill advised taking, without permission, of a sickly red-footed tortoise that Stein wanted to nurse back to health. Finkelstein, who helped establish the specialized court to protect the mentally disabled in 2003, now says Felony Mental Health Court is a failure that must be shut down. 

Josh Stein

Josh Stein

Dear Chief Judge Weinstein,

Josh Stein is dead. A 38-year-old man has been forever silenced. His mother and father will never again see his smile, hear his laugh or hold and hug him. Their only son is lost forever. Now they are left with only pictures and memories.

He died a victim of Broward County’s Felony Mental Health Court’s callous, misguided treatment of the mentally ill. (more…)

“Serious concerns” about court orders altered by BSO prompt Broward judges’ meeting

By Dan Christensen, 

Broward County Court Judges Sharon Zeller, right, and Ginger Lerner-Wren

Broward County Court Judges Sharon Zeller, right, and Ginger Lerner-Wren

Concerned that the sheriff’s office has altered the terms of misdemeanor probation orders without informing judges, Broward’s top county court judge has called a meeting of judges for next week to assess what’s happening.

“It is apparent that there is a practice of modifying the terms of probation without the knowledge or input of the judiciary,” Administrative Judge Sharon Zeller said in a recent memo to all criminal division judges that announced the Dec. 10 meeting.

“This raises serious concerns: the legality of probation, with probation, instead of the court, determining the terms of probation; modifying terms of probation without knowledge of the court, and enforcement.”

No law or administrative order of the Broward court authorizes the Broward Sheriff’s Office to engage in the little-known practice of unilaterally changing court-ordered reporting requirements to reduce how often defendants must report in person to a probation officer.

Florida Statute 948.03 gives judges the sole authority to “determine the terms and conditions of probation.”

As reported last month, Broward County Court Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren discovered what BSO was doing in early October while questioning a defendant. She quickly found that dozens of her probation orders had been changed, and prohibited the practice in her courtroom, calling it “outside the law” and “not in the interest of public safety.”

A probation officer later told the judge in open court, “This is occurring in order to alleviate workforce shortages or pressures.”

In an interview, Judge Zeller said that an attorney for the circuit court, Alexandra Rieman, has researched the matter and “believes that Judge Lerner-Wren is correct.” Zeller said a new administrative order of the court might be needed to address the problem.

“It seems easily solvable,” Zeller said.


BSO Community Programs Director David Scharf, who oversees probation, said in an interview that BSO adopted the practice as policy about 2009, but he declined several requests over the past month to make public a copy of that policy.

The practice, known as “dosage probation,” is based on what Scharf said are “evidence-based” risk assessments of probationers to determine how many doses, or times, a probationer must report in person to an officer. He cited language in standard misdemeanor probation order forms that he said authorizes probation officers to modify conditions imposed by a judge. The form tells defendants that “each month you will make a full and truthful report in person to your probation officer, unless otherwise directed by your probation officer.”

Thousands of misdemeanor defendants are adjudicated guilty every year and many are sentenced to varying terms of probation. Asked how many times BSO changed court-ordered reporting requirements for misdemeanor defendants last year, Scharf declined to answer.

Judge Zeller said she does not plan to ask BSO to provide such an accounting, but said individual judges may do so.

Probationers instructed not to report are nevertheless required to pay BSO the full cost of supervision, a monthly fee of $75.

Take the case of Christopher Thurlow, a Fort Lauderdale man found guilty last April of battery and sentenced to “make a full and truthful report in person to your probation officer” once a month for 12 months. A standard special condition of probation required him to pay the full cost of his supervision, $900, at a rate of $75 a month.

Court and BSO records show BSO later deemed Thurlow a medium risk, placing him on what’s known as Level 2 supervision. Level 2 offenders are told to report in person every other month – or six times a year. In the months they aren’t required to show up for an in-person assessment, they mail in a form with several questions including, “Have you used alcohol excessively or any controlled substances this month?”

No matter how often he reports in person, however, BSO still requires Thurlow to pay the full $900 for 12 months of reporting supervision. “Probationers do pay monthly costs of supervision regardless of their report in status,” BSO spokeswoman Keyla Concepcion explained.


Misdemeanor probation supervision fees represent a significant sum for BSO. During the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, BSO supervised 12,500 misdemeanor probationers and collected $2.8 million in such fees, according to information provided by BSO.

BSO’s probation workload is crushing. Last year, BSO employed just 31 probation specialists to handle the onslaught of probationers.

The State Attorney’s Office has taken a wait-and-see approach, with a spokesman indicating sympathy for Judge Lerner-Wren’s concerns, but saying it’s “not directly our fight.”

In a Nov. 18 memo about the matter to her fellow judges, Judge Lerner-Wren mentioned receiving a call from Sheriff Scott Israel days after reported the story.

He “wanted to say he was 95 percent in agreement. He also stated he only wants to work with the judges and his office will gladly comply with whatever a judge wants for his or her division,” said Lerner-Wren.

Lerner-Wren, who declined to be interviewed about her conversation with the sheriff, also cited “pertinent” Florida law, including the Separation of Powers provision of the Florida Constitution.

“It seems logical to conclude that unless county criminal division judges transmit a directive to BSO to curtail the systemic practice of changing sentencing orders of probation without court notification or court approval, this practice will continue,” she wrote.

BSO’s practice of altering probation terms could also run afoul of another constitutional provision which expressly grants victims of crime “the right to be informed, to be present, and to be heard when relevant, at all stages of criminal proceedings.”

In Thurlow’s case, for example, the battery victim was not informed about a Nov. 13 hearing at which his terms of probation were discussed, according to a transcript of the proceedings.

Broward’s criminal justice system failing mentally ill, too costly

Broward Chief Judge Peter Weinstein, left, and Public Defender Howard Finkelstein

Broward Chief Judge Peter Weinstein, left, and Public Defender Howard Finkelstein

Editors Note:
Last month,  published the story of Broward’s “Forgotten Soldier” – a mentally ill ex-Marine in his late fifties whose journey through the county’s long broken mental health system was marred by illegal confinement and a lack of appropriate care.

The compelling story of the Forgotten Soldier was written by Owen McNamee and Douglas Brawley, two assistant public defenders who represent him. Last week, their boss, elected Broward Public Defender wrote to Broward Chief Judge Peter Weinstein to compare the treatment of the mentally ill by the criminal justice systems of Broward and Miami-Dade. Finkelstein concluded that Broward’s mental health system is backwards, cruel and unnecessarily costly.

“We need to get back on track and Miami-Dade has provided a successful model to follow,” Finkelstein said. Here is Finkelstein’s November 19 letter to Weinstein: (more…)

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