By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
P.M. UPDATE: Broward Health’s top leadership, including its CEO and board chairman, are named in a four count indictment alleging violations of Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law.
Florida Bulldog obtained a copy of the four-page indictment Tuesday afternoon that accuses five defendants – Broward Health CEO Beverly Capasso, Commission Chairman Rocky Rodriguez, Commissioner Christopher Ure, former Commissioner Linda Robison and General Counsel Lynn Barrett – of conspiring to violate Florida’s public meetings law, also known as the Government-in-the-Sunshine law.
Capasso, Rodriguez, Ure and Robison were also charged with two counts of violating the public meetings law. Barrett also was charged alone in one count that accuses her of solicitation to violate the Sunshine Law.
The alleged crimes are all second degree misdemeanors. The defendants were not arrested. Rather, each was given a summons to appear for arraignment on Jan. 22 at 9 a.m. before Broward County Court Judge Jill Levy.
Gov. Rick Scott’s press secretary Lauren Schenone said Tuesday evening that Scott was reviewing whether he would suspend Rodriguez, Ure and/or Barrett. The governor has the authority to suspend from office officials charged with felonies, but it was not immediately clear if that power extends to allegations involving misdemeanors related to official acts.
The State Attorney’s Office did not immediately release the indictment, but did issue a press release summarizing events late Tuesday afternoon. An anticipated narrative report was not released.
But attorneys representing the accused and the North Broward Hospital District, including former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth and former Miami U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez, issued a statement suggesting that prosecutors have been duped by corrupt or incompetent former Broward Health employees.
“This is the most misguided prosecution we have ever seen,” says the statement. “All the defendants are innocent and will be exonerated at trial.”
Butterworth represents Broward Health, the district’s brand name. Martinez is Barrett’s lawyer. Also signing on to the statement were Capasso’s attorney, Scott Richardson of West Palm Beach attorney and attorney Bruce Lyons, who represents Rodriguez.
The charges all involve the Dec. 1, 2016 firing by the board of former Broward Health CEO Pauline Grant.
According to Count III of the indictment, Barrett solicited Rodriguez, Ure, Robison “and/or” Capasso, “personally or through conduits or intermediaries Jack Selden and/or Richard Westling” to discuss in private meetings, in person and by telephone, allegations of misconduct then being made about Grant “where such defacto meetings were not noticed to the public and therefore not open to the public at all times.”
The alleged meetings occurred at an unspecified Westin Hotel and at Mario’s Catalina Restaurant at 1611 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale.
Selden and Westling are out-of-state attorneys who conducted an “independent” investigation of Grant and advised Broward Health’s board about how it should address the investigation’s findings, which were highly critical of Grant and presaged her dismissal.
Florida Bulldog has reported that both firms, however, have deep ties to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whose oversight powers at the district include choosing Broward Health’s board of commissioners.
Count I alleges the four commissioners met out of the public eye at the hotel and restaurant to discuss “a reportable event,” that is the report’s findings about Grant that they contended was necessary to report to the Justice Department under the terms of a Corporate Integrity Agreement that was part of a $70 million settlement in August 2015 of a federal whistleblower suit alleging massive healthcare fraud by Broward Health.
County II alleges the four commissioners broke the Sunshine Law at the Dec. 1, 2016 special board meeting by not properly providing the public with advance notice.
Count IV is the conspiracy count involving all five defendants. It alleges that in the weeks before the Dec. 1, 2016 vote, the five conspired to privately discuss the “reportable event” in de facto meetings that were not noticed to the public “and therefore not open to the public at all time.”
A.M. story disclosing indictments are likely soon…
By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
A state grand jury investigation of alleged Sunshine Law violations at taxpayer-supported Broward Health appears to be wrapping up, and sources familiar with what’s happening say one or more indictments are likely.
“I would not be surprised that there’d be an indictment, although there’s no basis for it given the way this matter has been presented to the grand jury by the state attorney’s office,” said Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Bruce Lyons, who represents Broward Health Chairman Rocky Rodriguez.
“It could be one of two things. They could indict [Broward Health general counsel] Lynn Barrett by herself, which I doubt, or they could indict them all.”
Former Miami U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez represents Barrett. He was out of the country, and a request to discuss the case was referred to attorney Lindsey Friedman, who declined to comment.
Florida Bulldog previously reported that Broward’s grand jury began hearing from witnesses Sept. 27 in the wake of allegations that Broward Health’s board violated state law last December when, at a hastily arranged meeting, it voted 4-1 to fire then-CEO Pauline Grant for alleged violations of a federal anti-kickback law.
Commissioners who voted to fire Grant were Chairman Rodriguez, Commissioner Christopher Ure and then-Commissioners Beverly Capasso and Linda Robison. Commissioner Maureen Canada, who has also since departed, voted no.
Broward Health has retained lawyers for Barrett, Rodriguez, Ure, Robison and Capasso, who currently serves as the hospital district’s interim CEO.
“I decided our office should focus on possible Sunshine Law violations and related matters that had come to our attention,” Broward State Attorney Michael Satz told Florida Bulldog in September.
Capasso voted to give herself a job
Those related matters likely include Capasso’s decision last May 8, while still on Broward Health’s board, to vote to give herself the lucrative job of interim CEO. Her salary was later set at $650,000. Minutes of that meeting show that when Capasso’s name was called during the roll call vote she “questioned if she could vote” but was assured by Barrett that she could.
Assistant State Attorney Tim Donnelly is leading the grand jury’s investigation, which is unfolding as a parallel federal grand jury looks at suspicious purchasing practices at Broward Health. Florida Bulldog reported in February 2016 that the federal grand jury had subpoenaed Broward Health records about former procurement officer Brian Bravo and 16 companies, including MedAssets, which was a publicly traded, Georgia-based group purchasing organization.
Attorney Lyons said Broward Health Chairman Rodriguez testified before the grand jury before Thanksgiving “because he had nothing to hide.”
Sources said Ure and Barrett also testified. Ure’s attorney, Bruce Lehr of Miami’s Lehr, Levi & Mendez, declined to comment except to say that his client was “absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing.”
Mark Rankin of the Tampa office of Shutts & Bowen represents Linda Robison, also a Shutts partner, who Gov. Rick Scott replaced with Coral Springs attorney Nancy Gregoire on Dec. 1 Rankin said Robison did not testify before the grand jury, but received receiving an invitation to do so.
“She hasn’t done anything wrong,” Rankin said Monday. “If she is charged with anything, she’s not guilty. She hasn’t committed any crime and always acted in the best interests of the hospital district.”
Capasso’s attorney, Scott Richardson of West Palm Beach, did not respond to a request for comment.
Florida’s Sunshine Law states that all meetings of boards or commissions are “declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times” and that reasonable notice of all meetings must be provided. Criminal violations are a second-degree misdemeanor, and the statute of limitations for such offenses is one year.
Broward Health’s board voted to fire Pauline Grant on Dec. 1, 2016. Attorney Lyons said he’s heard the grand jury voted Nov. 28, 2017 – two days in advance of the statutory deadline – and that prosecutors have deferred an announcement while “in the process of writing a report in addition to the return of the indictments.”
Nevertheless, Lyons expressed confidence that anyone who is charged will ultimately be vindicated.
“I’ve done this a long time. There is no violation of the Sunshine Law, in my opinion,” said Lyons.