By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, FloridaBulldog.org
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.