By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
The Florida ethics commission has found probable cause to believe that Fort Lauderdale consultant Joseph Cobo had business conflicts that “interfered with his public duties” as a North Broward Hospital District commissioner.
But over the objections of a Broward corruption prosecutor, the ethics commission decided to do nothing about it and close Cobo’s case.
Cobo, accused of exploiting his public position for private gain, owns and operates Florida Medical Management Consultants, which provides management and financial services to doctors. He stepped down from the district’s board when his term expired in September.
In a signed settlement agreement, Cobo acknowledged that probable cause exists that he twice violated Florida’s Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees. Nevertheless, the commission without comment last month adopted the recommendation of its attorney, Melody Hadley, that the case be dropped and no penalty assessed. Hadley did not explain the basis for her recommendation.
PROSECUTOR’S CONCERN DISCARDED
The ruling brushed aside concerns expressed by Broward Assistant State Attorney David Schulson. Schulson lodged the complaint against Cobo a year ago after declining to file criminal charges due to a lack of corroborating evidence that Cobo had used his power as a commissioner to try and punish a doctor who refused to retain Cobo’s consulting company.
“I do not agree that there should be no imposition of a fine,” Schulson wrote in a Nov. 21 letter. “Cobo admits in the proposed (settlement) that there is probable cause…and he should accept a reasonable fine for those violations.”
The district, which operates under the name Broward Health, is a special taxing district that runs several public hospitals, including Broward General and North Broward Medical Center. Cobo, a Republican activist, was appointed to the board in 2007 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.
Cobo’s legal troubles began in early 2009 when the hospital district board hired the Lash and Goldberg law firm to investigate allegations of ethical misconduct regarding his involvement in business matters involving Broward Health. The firm’s findings of potential ethical and criminal violations by Cobo were forwarded to the governor’s office, where they initially languished.
Broward prosecutors began an investigation into whether Cobo had improperly used his public office to steer business to his company after reports of his actions were published in New Times Broward-Palm Beach. Last January, Schulson closed the probe after concluding Cobo’s actions were not criminal, but followed up quickly with a complaint to the ethics commission.
Specifically, Schulson asked for a review of issues involving two matters: Cobo’s role in a lease dispute at one of the district’s hospitals, Imperial Point Medical Center, and his involvement in the district’s recruitment of Dr. Dimitrios Lintzeris, a family practitioner in Pompano Beach.
COBO HAD CONFLICTS
The ethics commission ultimately determined that then-Commissioner Cobo had a conflict when he contacted Imperial Point’s chief executive, Calvin Glidewell, and questioned him about the terms of the lease while also representing clients involved in the dispute. The commission also decided Cobo had a similar conflict when he contacted Glidewell to allegedly bad mouth Dr. Lintzeris after Litzeris decided not to sign a consulting agreement with Cobo’s firm even though Cobo previously had interceded on his behalf with a Broward Health official.
Three other related charges against Cobo were not sustained by the commission in findings made public Dec. 7.
Neither Cobo nor his Fort Lauderdale lawyer, Stuart R. Michelson, responded to requests for comment.
But in a pleading filed with the commission this fall, Michelson observed: “This entire process, with the investigation of the state attorney and now before this honorable commission, has been a nightmare…and he has suffered greatly as a result of it, both emotionally and financially.”
In September, Gov. Rick Scott chose Oakland Park lawyer and Broward Republican Party activist David Di Pietro to succeed Cobo on the board.