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State ethics board finds it likely that ex-Broward Health commissioner broke law; does nothing

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

Joseph Cobo

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.

 

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  • Now everyone knows why we pushed so hard for Broward ethics ordinances. “State Ethics Board ” is an oxymoron.

  • In America individuals are innocent until proven guilty, but not in this case. Commissioner Cobo did not do anything wrong or if not the State Attorney Office would have prosecuted him. They could not find anything wrong during the two year investigation or they would have loved to make an example of this case. The same thing happened with the Ethics Commission which also could not really find any violations of the code or if not they would have prosecuted it. But they found probable cause in other not to make the State Attorney Office look bad after a meaningless investigation. I am sure that Commissioner Cobo just wanted to get this behind him and move on with his life beside stop the unnecessary legal fees for the right to serve his community. Mr. Christensen you should check your records Commissioner Cobo did not step down he did not re-apply for the appointment although was asked to by many people and completed his term receiving a recognition for his service for his outstanding contribution to NBHD. Dan read number 18 of the agreement since you did not quote all the facts, just what you wanted to for character assassination. Also Mr. Christensen who it that in the picture? Because it does not look like Commissioner Cobo NOW. Yes, we need ethics in our county and we need more individual like Commissioner Cobo who gives so much of his time to serve the community without compensation and willing to give back to help others. Number 18 of the agreement: The Commission’s finding of probable of cause is not a determination that a violation of any provision of the Code of Ethics has occurred or whether any breach of the public trust has been committed.
    PS: I have known Joe Cobo for over twenty five years and he is a family man of high morals & integrity. I thank him for his service to our community

  • I’m with Charlotte. This is a joke.

  • They don’t need to find wrong doing these days to make things go away. All they have to do is drag their feet long enough to make the issue “old news”. Friends with the right people and things go bye bye. One hand washes the other in this ironically dirty state. How will things ever improve if the process of investigation remains so inadequate and flawed?

  • @ Citizens Rights……such a good friend for all these years, yet you hide your identity in support of him??? The Hospital District is a mean and corrupt state supported entity and will never admit wrong doing or fault, and this includes all public officials that support it. As for him serving his community without compensation,I can assure you he was not going without. Morals and Integrity are not one the requirements for a position at the “round table” at Broward Health.

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