By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
UPDATE June 1, 2021 – Ex-Broward Health procurement boss Brian Bravo pleaded guilty today to a federal conspiracy charge, admitting that he accepted kickbacks from vendors and a consultant in exchange for awarding them lucrative government contracts. Sentencing is set for Aug. 12. Bravo faces up to five years in prison.
Jan. 11, 2021 – Five years after tax-supported Broward Health was rocked by a costly kickback scandal and news the FBI was investigating alleged corruption in the hospital network’s purchasing department, the government has made its first arrest in the case.
Federal court records state that Brian Bravo, Broward Health’s corporate procurement officer and director of materials management from 2005-2015, was indicted quietly on Nov. 19 by a federal grand jury on five counts of bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and money laundering, and extortion under color of official right. The indictment was made public following Bravo’s arraignment on Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick M. Hunt.
If convicted of all charges, Bravo faces up to 60 years in prison and fines of $1.25 million. Bond was set at $200,000. It was not immediately known if Bravo posted bond or was jailed.
The indictment details a bribery and kickback scheme orchestrated by Bravo that began in 2008 and lasted until he was fired December 2015. The scheme involved four Broward Health vendors, a pair of front companies to receive cash and checks, a consulting company and goods and services for which Broward Health paid more than $22 million.
Bravo’s take in bribes and kickbacks: $600,000 in illegal proceeds that the indictment says is traceable back to him and that the government intends to forfeit.
‘A little fish’
Bravo was paid mostly in cash and checks, the indictment says. But he was also paid via a pair of tickets to the 2014 World Cup of soccer in Brazil that cost $2,556.29, plus vacations for him and his family in Cancun, The Bahamas, Walt Disney World and a cabin in North Carolina.
While Bravo is the only individual named in the indictment, it also mentions two unindicted co-conspirators. A source described Bravo as “a little fish” in the investigation, which is continuing.
The indictment says Bravo used a Florida company owned by an unnamed relative to hide kickback payments he received from vendors. The company is identified as Computer Tech Services Inc., which does business as EcoSafeInk or Ecosafe.
Bravo’s relative was also listed as president and registered agent for Denalix Corp., another now-defunct company used by Bravo as a conduit in his scheme. State records identify both companies as having been owned by Brando Aguilera of Miami during the time of the alleged scheme. The records also show that Aguilera was removed as the president of Computer Tech in December.
“Co-conspirator #1” is identified as the owner and founder of an unnamed company based in Port Reading, NJ. Bravo began receiving kickbacks from #1 in 2008 when the company began supplying “certain products to Broward Health.”
For the next six years, #1 would frequently travel to Florida to make “cash deliveries as kickback payments to Bravo.” Bravo also accepted kickbacks when he’d travel to New York, the indictment says.
Cash payments ‘too large’
In 2014, Bravo demanded higher kickbacks for the company to continue business with Broward Health. In 2015, #1 said he needed to start paying Bravo with corporate checks “because the cash payments were becoming too large.” The checks were made payable to Computer Tech, where Bravo’s relative would withdraw the money and pay it to Bravo. The withdrawals were “structured” to not exceed $10,000, “in order to evade the cash reporting requirements of the Internal Revenue Service,” the indictment says.
From March 2015 until Dec. 9, 2015, #1 paid Bravo more than $121,000 in kickbacks. From 2008 through May 31, 2016, Broward Health paid #1’s company $14.414 million, the indictment says.
“Co-conspirator #2” was a “partner and part owner” of an unnamed consulting firm that Bravo introduced to two Broward Health vendors – a linen supply company and a distributor of compression sleeves, garments that fit tightly around skin to improve circulation or for other uses.
In March 2014, #2’s consulting company signed a contract with the linen vendor to give it three percent of the total services billed each month to Broward Health by the linen vendor. Around the same time, #2 agreed to pay Bravo “a portion of the three percent.”
“Bravo used his influence to get the Linen Vendor as a Broward Health vendor,” the indictment says.
Between February and July 2015, #2 paid $85,000 in kickbacks to Bravo, the indictment says. From mid-2014 until early 2016, Broward Health paid the linen vendor nearly $6.2 million. During the same period, the linen vendor paid #2’s consulting company just under $185,000.
Broward Health awarded the compression sleeve vendor a contract to provide its products to Imperial Point Hospital, the network’s smallest hospital, in March 2013. The company, however, wanted entry into Broward Health’s other hospitals.
The indictment says the compression sleeve vendor got in the game after Bravo introduced its representative to #2 “as a person who could assist the…vendor in convincing Broward Health to provide its products to hospitals other than Imperial Point. ‘’
The compression sleeve company was ultimately paid $1.47 million by Broward Health. Bravo got $5,700 and #2’s company, $44,000, the indictment says.
Bravo wants a piece
The indictment also discusses Prodigo Solutions, a company that sold software products said to provide cost-savings for purchasing by healthcare providers. According to the indictment, #2 and others started an investment fund that bought a majority interest in Prodigo Solutions and sold units to investors while attempting to sell software products to Broward Health.
In September 2020, Bravo wanted to purchase a single unit of the Prodigo fund, at a cost of approximately $45,535. On Sept. 9, the same day he was told where to wire payment, he asked #2 to “take care of the payment.”
#2’s consulting company subsequently paid more than $30,000 toward Bravo’s purchase, the indictment says.
Florida Bulldog first reported in August 2015 that Broward Health agreed to pay $69.5 million in penalties to settle federal allegations that it paid illegal kickbacks to nine doctors who referred patients to its hospitals in a fraud scheme that went on for more than a decade.
The scheme collapsed after Fort Lauderdale orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Reilly blew the whistle in a lawsuit using the federal False Claims Act. Dr. Reilly received a $12,045,655.51 reward.
Fresh corruption allegations naming Bravo surfaced in early February 2016 after an email written by Miami private investigator Wayne Black to Broward Health’s then-general counsel Lynn Barrett and others at the public hospital system accused Barrett of failing to cooperate with the FBI and withholding evidence. Black had been hired to look into alleged corruption by Broward Health’s CEO, Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, who killed himself in January 2016.
On Feb. 17, 2016, Florida Bulldog first reported that a Fort Lauderdale grand jury had served a subpoena on Broward Health demanding records relating to the FBI’s investigation of Bravo and the health system’s purchasing practices. The subpoena sought records going back 10 years.