“Serious concerns” about court orders altered by BSO prompt Broward judges’ meeting

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Broward County Court Judges Sharon Zeller, right, and Ginger Lerner-Wren

Broward County Court Judges Sharon Zeller, right, and Ginger Lerner-Wren

Concerned that the sheriff’s office has altered the terms of misdemeanor probation orders without informing judges, Broward’s top county court judge has called a meeting of judges for next week to assess what’s happening.

“It is apparent that there is a practice of modifying the terms of probation without the knowledge or input of the judiciary,” Administrative Judge Sharon Zeller said in a recent memo to all criminal division judges that announced the Dec. 10 meeting.

“This raises serious concerns: the legality of probation, with probation, instead of the court, determining the terms of probation; modifying terms of probation without knowledge of the court, and enforcement.”

No law or administrative order of the Broward court authorizes the Broward Sheriff’s Office to engage in the little-known practice of unilaterally changing court-ordered reporting requirements to reduce how often defendants must report in person to a probation officer.

Florida Statute 948.03 gives judges the sole authority to “determine the terms and conditions of probation.”

As BrowardBulldog.org reported last month, Broward County Court Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren discovered what BSO was doing in early October while questioning a defendant. She quickly found that dozens of her probation orders had been changed, and prohibited the practice in her courtroom, calling it “outside the law” and “not in the interest of public safety.”

A probation officer later told the judge in open court, “This is occurring in order to alleviate workforce shortages or pressures.”

In an interview, Judge Zeller said that an attorney for the circuit court, Alexandra Rieman, has researched the matter and “believes that Judge Lerner-Wren is correct.” Zeller said a new administrative order of the court might be needed to address the problem.

“It seems easily solvable,” Zeller said.

DOSAGE PROBATION

BSO Community Programs Director David Scharf, who oversees probation, said in an interview that BSO adopted the practice as policy about 2009, but he declined several requests over the past month to make public a copy of that policy.

The practice, known as “dosage probation,” is based on what Scharf said are “evidence-based” risk assessments of probationers to determine how many doses, or times, a probationer must report in person to an officer. He cited language in standard misdemeanor probation order forms that he said authorizes probation officers to modify conditions imposed by a judge. The form tells defendants that “each month you will make a full and truthful report in person to your probation officer, unless otherwise directed by your probation officer.”

Thousands of misdemeanor defendants are adjudicated guilty every year and many are sentenced to varying terms of probation. Asked how many times BSO changed court-ordered reporting requirements for misdemeanor defendants last year, Scharf declined to answer.

Judge Zeller said she does not plan to ask BSO to provide such an accounting, but said individual judges may do so.

Probationers instructed not to report are nevertheless required to pay BSO the full cost of supervision, a monthly fee of $75.

Take the case of Christopher Thurlow, a Fort Lauderdale man found guilty last April of battery and sentenced to “make a full and truthful report in person to your probation officer” once a month for 12 months. A standard special condition of probation required him to pay the full cost of his supervision, $900, at a rate of $75 a month.

Court and BSO records show BSO later deemed Thurlow a medium risk, placing him on what’s known as Level 2 supervision. Level 2 offenders are told to report in person every other month – or six times a year. In the months they aren’t required to show up for an in-person assessment, they mail in a form with several questions including, “Have you used alcohol excessively or any controlled substances this month?”

No matter how often he reports in person, however, BSO still requires Thurlow to pay the full $900 for 12 months of reporting supervision. “Probationers do pay monthly costs of supervision regardless of their report in status,” BSO spokeswoman Keyla Concepcion explained.

BIG MONEY IN SUPERVISION

Misdemeanor probation supervision fees represent a significant sum for BSO. During the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, BSO supervised 12,500 misdemeanor probationers and collected $2.8 million in such fees, according to information provided by BSO.

BSO’s probation workload is crushing. Last year, BSO employed just 31 probation specialists to handle the onslaught of probationers.

The State Attorney’s Office has taken a wait-and-see approach, with a spokesman indicating sympathy for Judge Lerner-Wren’s concerns, but saying it’s “not directly our fight.”

In a Nov. 18 memo about the matter to her fellow judges, Judge Lerner-Wren mentioned receiving a call from Sheriff Scott Israel days after BrowardBulldog.org reported the story.

He “wanted to say he was 95 percent in agreement. He also stated he only wants to work with the judges and his office will gladly comply with whatever a judge wants for his or her division,” said Lerner-Wren.

Lerner-Wren, who declined to be interviewed about her conversation with the sheriff, also cited “pertinent” Florida law, including the Separation of Powers provision of the Florida Constitution.

“It seems logical to conclude that unless county criminal division judges transmit a directive to BSO to curtail the systemic practice of changing sentencing orders of probation without court notification or court approval, this practice will continue,” she wrote.

BSO’s practice of altering probation terms could also run afoul of another constitutional provision which expressly grants victims of crime “the right to be informed, to be present, and to be heard when relevant, at all stages of criminal proceedings.”

In Thurlow’s case, for example, the battery victim was not informed about a Nov. 13 hearing at which his terms of probation were discussed, according to a transcript of the proceedings.

Broward’s criminal justice system failing mentally ill, too costly

Broward Chief Judge Peter Weinstein, left, and Public Defender Howard Finkelstein

Broward Chief Judge Peter Weinstein, left, and Public Defender Howard Finkelstein

Editors Note:
Last month, BrowardBulldog.org  published the story of Broward’s “Forgotten Soldier” – a mentally ill ex-Marine in his late fifties whose journey through the county’s long broken mental health system was marred by illegal confinement and a lack of appropriate care.

The compelling story of the Forgotten Soldier was written by Owen McNamee and Douglas Brawley, two assistant public defenders who represent him. Last week, their boss, elected Broward Public Defender wrote to Broward Chief Judge Peter Weinstein to compare the treatment of the mentally ill by the criminal justice systems of Broward and Miami-Dade. Finkelstein concluded that Broward’s mental health system is backwards, cruel and unnecessarily costly.

“We need to get back on track and Miami-Dade has provided a successful model to follow,” Finkelstein said. Here is Finkelstein’s November 19 letter to Weinstein: (more…)

BSO quietly changes court’s probation orders; Broward judge blows the whistle

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Broward County Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren, left, and David Scharf, director of community programs for the Broward Sheriff's Office

Broward County Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren, left, and David Scharf, director of community programs for the Broward Sheriff’s Office

Fort Lauderdale resident Christopher Wayne Thurlow was adjudged guilty last April of misdemeanor battery and violating a restraining order. His sentence: 12 months of reporting probation – that is, to appear personally once a month before a probation officer.

But that’s not what happened.

Without informing the court, the Broward Sheriff’s Probation Office changed Thurlow’s court-ordered reporting requirement to once every two months.

Broward County Court Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren, who signed Thurlow’s probation order, chanced to find out October 2 when Thurlow appeared in her courtroom again for arraignment on new charges of resisting arrest without violence and a related criminal traffic charge.

“I asked (the prosecutor) to contact probation, as I knew defendant was currently on probation. The defendant indicated to the court that he was told he did not have to report,” Lerner-Wren told Chief Judge Peter Weinstein in a memo the next day.

At a hearing, Judge Lerner-Wren soon learned from a probation officer that BSO had similarly modified other probation orders without her knowledge.

“This is being done with no court order or other known administrative authority,” she wrote.

Lerner-Wren signed an order banning the practice in her courtroom, calling it “outside of the law” and “not in the interest of public safety.” Her memo adds that Charmin Gilbert, the probation officer, stated “this is occurring in order to alleviate workforce shortages or pressures.”

Since then, Lerner-Wren has informed the court’s top administrative judges by memo that she’s identified dozens of similar cases in her court culled from a list of 125 pending court-ordered probation cases compiled by the probation office.

NUMEROUS PROBATION ORDERS MODIFIED BY BSO

“The majority appear to have been modified, changed or altered without court notification, opportunity for court review and without court approval,” she wrote in an Oct. 29 memo obtained by BrowardBulldog.org. “The practice seems to have emerged as early as 2010, with the pattern apparently being systemized in 2014.”

Lerner-Wren, a veteran member of Broward’s bench, declined comment. But in her Oct. 29 memo she expressed concern about BSO’s actions.

“In my view, this situation raises a number of serious legal issues, particularly as to the integrity of court process, legal enforcement of sentencing orders by the court and potential public safety issues,” she said.

The memo indicates particular concern that BSO Probation’s actions violate the rights of victims of violent crimes.

“It is unknown how many modified cases involve a victim and/or are violence related,” she said. “In my view, this raises constitutional issues relating to the legal question of whether or not victims had a right to be notified and be heard pertaining to a change in post-conviction sentencing.”

County Court administrative Judge Sharon Zeller and Criminal Division chairwoman Judge Mary Rudd Robinson did not respond to requests for comment over several days. Chief Judge Weinstein is on vacation.

Ron Ishoy, a spokesman for State Attorney Michael Satz, said his office is aware of the matter and has been in contact about it with BSO officials.

“It’s not directly our fight (but) we certainly understand Judge Lerner-Wren’s concern and we’ll continue to monitor it,” Ishoy said.

Florida Statute 948.03 gives judges the sole authority to “determine the terms and conditions of probation.”

BSO: NO REAL PROBLEM

But David Scharf, who oversees probation as BSO’s director of community programs, indicated in an interview that his office has modified the terms of court-ordered probation in each of Broward County’s misdemeanor criminal courts because it is standard BSO policy. If so, hundreds or perhaps thousands of cases could be affected.

Scharf added that while he’s aware of judicial concerns about possible illegality, he sees no actual problem.

“Our practice is not contrary to any court order,” he said, citing standard language in misdemeanor probation orders that he says authorizes probation officers to modify conditions imposed by a judge.

That language on forms defendants sign says, “Each month you will make a full and truthful report in person to your probation officer, unless otherwise directed by your probation officer.”

Scharf explained that the practice, known as “dosage probation,” is rooted in what’s known as “evidence-based decision making” that involves the use of “objective risk assessment” criteria to assess whether a probationer is high, medium or low risk. BSO, without court input, then determines how many doses, or times, someone on probation must physically report to an officer.

“We as an agency are committed to public safety. The claim that we are compromising public safety we refute tremendously,” Scharf said. “Our successful completion rates are up.”

Scharf said he does not understand why Judge Lerner-Wren was not aware of BSO Probation’s policy because dosage has been part of BSO policy since about 2009.

“I don’t know what she doesn’t know,” said Scharf, who did not produce a copy of the policy despite several requests. “We have probation officers in court and have for many years. There’s never been a question or an issue about how we operated.”

He said BSO is currently developing a response to the court.

“We’re ready to work with the judiciary and formulate a plan, and if they want more discretion in how they are handling things we certainly are willing to do that – with the caveat that what we are doing is working,” said Scharf.

Meanwhile, Judge Lerner-Wren has informed judicial higher-ups of her plans to schedule “review hearings of all cases identified by BSO Probation to reaffirm court orders, hear input from the parties and evaluate the need for further court action.

“I wanted to share this new information in order that my colleagues may consider what steps, if any, to take in their respective criminal divisions,” she said.

Broward prosecutors vilify BSO detective who alleged misconduct; ‘Bloody…not improper’

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org bsohomicide

A Broward Sheriff’s homicide detective who reported that Fort Lauderdale police unleashed a dog on a murder suspect who was in custody and no longer a threat should not be believed, according to a memo by local prosecutors closing the case.

“A violent, bloody, confused, quickly-developing, and unfortunate turn of events, but not improper action by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department officers and not a violation of Florida law,” concludes the 10-page memo signed by Timothy L. Donnelly, chief of the Broward State Attorney’s public corruption unit.

Jeffrey Kogan, a featured detective on the A&E channel’s police reality show The First 48, claims he was ostracized and demoted to road patrol in Pompano Beach for reporting what he saw. In July, he filed a whistleblower suit against Sheriff Scott Israel, claiming unlawful retaliation.

The state’s investigation began after a brief conversation between Kogan and homicide prosecutor Lanie Bandell three days after the April 4, 2013 arrest of murder suspect Walter Morris Hart. Bandell said Kogan had asked her whether the use of the dog would negatively affect the prosecution. When she asked why, Kogan said, “You know, they let the dog loose after we had him in custody.” Bandell alerted her colleagues in public corruption.

The inquiry that followed ended with the Feb. 26 close-out memo, written by Assistant State Attorney Nickolaus Hunter Davis, that castigates Deputy Kogan for giving sworn testimony that the memo says was “inconsistent” and “not credible.” Worse, the memo suggests Kogan deliberately lied – though prosecutors filed no criminal charge against him.

Broward Sheriff's Homicide Detective Jeffrey Kogan Photo: A&E Network

Broward Sheriff’s Homicide Detective Jeffrey Kogan Photo: A&E Network

The recommendation to State Attorney Mike Satz: take no action against Robert Morris, the city K-9 officer on scene who unleashed his dog “Grief” on murder suspect Walter Morris Hart in the early morning hours of April 4, 2013. The memo also recommended no action be taken against Fort Lauderdale Officers Jason Marcus and Craig Sheehan, who were also present.

Still, the state’s investigation offers no satisfactory explanation for why Kogan, a veteran BSO detective with a history of superior performance evaluations, would make such an unfounded accusation against his fellow officers.

The memo asserts the lawsuit gave Kogan a reason to lie – “a direct financial motive to testify in a manner that makes Officers Morris, Marcus, and Sheehan’s conduct seem as outrageous as possible.”

Yet the lawsuit wasn’t filed until three months after Hart’s capture and a month after Kogan gave a pair of sworn statements to state investigators.

Moreover, Florida’s Whistleblower Act is not a path to a windfall. Employees who prevail under the act are only entitled to reinstatement to the same or an equivalent position with full seniority and benefits, compensation for any lost remuneration and attorney’s fees and costs.

Kogan’s demotion cost him $75 from his biweekly paycheck, according to his lawyer.

“He doesn’t have a financial motive. Does anyone really think he’s going to taint his career for $150 a month?” said attorney Tonja Haddad Coleman.

Both the state’s investigation, and the ongoing whistleblower lawsuit, arose from the April 3, 2013 fatal stabbing of 20-year-old Keema Gooding in a residence at 3024 NW Eighth Court in unincorporated Fort Lauderdale. Hart, who lived there, was identified as the prime suspect.

Hart, now 20, was soon determined to be hiding out at another home within Fort Lauderdale’s city limits. BSO deputies and Fort Lauderdale police arrived at 1701 NW 15th Place about 1 a.m.  A short time later, Hart fled out the back door where city officers were waiting.

Murder suspect Walter Hart Photo: BSO

Murder suspect Walter Hart Photo: BSO

In his lawsuit, Kogan said that when he entered the backyard Hart was sitting on the ground with his hands behind his back and was not resisting or being combative. Then, the lawsuit said, the Fort Lauderdale K-9 officer “unnecessarily deployed his canine, who bit the suspect on his right arm.”

The memo says Hart’s injuries to his right arm later required “eight or nine stitches to close.”

Hart, who remains jailed while awaiting trial on charges of second-degree murder and resisting an officer with violence, refused to be interviewed by prosecutors, but gave a similar account to friends and relatives he telephoned from jail. The calls were tape-recorded by authorities, the memo says.

“I dropped on the ground and they still let the dog bite on me for five minutes…you know how city police is,” Hart said in one conversation on April 11, 2013, the memo says.

Prosecutors later dismissed Kogan’s testimony as “imprecise and impeachable.” Hart’s statements were discounted as coming from “a murderer.”

Instead, prosecutors credited the testimony of BSO Sgt. David Ellwood, Kogan’s supervisor and fellow star on The First 48, and BSO Sgt. Ian Sklar, a K-9 deputy who was on scene but kept his dog in his vehicle.

BSO Homicide Sgt. Dave Ellwood Photo: A&E Network

BSO Homicide Sgt. Dave Ellwood Photo: A&E Network

According to the memo, Ellwood stated under oath that he never entered the backyard and was thus unable to see how Hart was taken into custody. However, Ellwood testified that Kogan didn’t enter the backyard until after he heard Hart scream as the police dog was biting him.

“I’ve been a cop for 23 years. I know what that screaming sounds like. That is a person, a human being, being bit by a dog,” Ellwood said.

Sklar testified that he managed to “peek” over a six-foot wooden fence and saw Officers Marcus and Sheehan struggling with Hart on the ground while trying to handcuff him. As the struggle continued, Morris appeared with his dog. Marcus and Sheehan disengaged and then Morris released the dog.

Sklar said K-9 procedure is that a dog should not be removed until the suspect is handcuffed. He said, “they did not remove the dog until after the guy was handcuffed…that’s what [Kogan was] standing there witnessing.”

The memo concludes the testimony of Ellwood and Sklar “makes it seem very unlikely Kogan would have even had an opportunity to see whether Morris had cause to deploy the dog,”

A status conference in the homicide case is set for April 23 before Broward Circuit Judge Raag Singhal.

The governor and the felon: the profitable, private partnership of Rick Scott and Ken Jenne

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Before he was governor, Rick Scott, left, funneled stock options worth $375,000 to then Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne

Before he was governor, Rick Scott, left, funneled stock options worth $375,000 to then Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne

Kimberly Kisslan’s sudden resignation from Broward Health’s governing board two weeks ago followed news of her immunized testimony in the 2007 corruption case that brought down Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne.

Since then, Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed Kisslan in July, has refused to answer questions about the matter or explain why a state background check failed to uncover Kisslan’s involvement in Jenne’s criminal scheme. Kisslan was BSO legal counsel under Sheriff Jenne.

Scott, however, has a little-known reason for not wanting to talk about Jenne. The governor and the convicted felon are old friends and business associates.

“I’ve just known (Scott) for years and years and years,” Jenne told this reporter in 2005.

Scott was a wealthy private investor in April 2003 when he funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars Sheriff Jenne’s way by recommending him for a lucrative seat on the board of directors of CyberGuard, a Deerfield Beach computer security company. At the time, Scott owned nearly 40 percent of CyberGuard’s stock.

cyberguardlogoLess than three years later, California-based Secure Computing bought CyberGuard for $295 million in stock and cash. Cyberguard’s annual report made public a few weeks after the announcement listed Jenne as the beneficial owner of 42,555 CyberGuard shares valued at $375,000 under the terms of the deal.

Jenne acquired most, if not all of those shares via stock options he received for serving on CyberGuard’s board.

CyberGuard’s core business was building and selling digital firewalls to shield computer networks from intruders. Its “target customers,” according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission records, were “companies, major financial institutions and government entities.” Cyberguard did not identify specific clients.

Why Scott wanted Jenne on CyberGuard’s board is not known, and neither the governor nor Jenne would comment for this story. Jenne, who went to prison for mail fraud and not disclosing benefits he received from BSO vendors on his income tax returns, previously said CyberGuard was not a BSO vendor.

SCOTT BUYS A STAKE 

Richard L. Scott, as the governor was known before he ran for office, made his initial investment in Cyberguard in August 1999 via Fernwood Partners II, which acquired $3.7 million in company debt, according to SEC and other records. Fernwood was a Delaware firm that bought, sold and invested in the stock and debt of other companies. Scott and his wife, Annette, were major equity shareholders in Fernwood.

As part of the deal, CyberGuard added Scott’s brother, William Scott, and former Columbia/HCA Healthcare executive David Manning to its board of directors. Gov. Scott was Columbia/HCA’s chief executive until 1997 when he resigned amid a federal Medicare fraud investigation.

Fernwood went on to acquire nearly 50 percent of CyberGuard before it was dissolved and its holdings distributed to its members in March 2003, SEC records say.

With that, Scott became CyberGuard’s largest individual shareholder. By August 2005, when Secure Computing announced it would acquire all of Cyberguard’s shares, Scott owned 8,249,597 shares worth $72,356,000 in cash and Secure Computing shares, according to SEC records.

Scott’s total investment in Cyberguard: about $10 million, the records indicate.

“When I initially made my investments in Cyberguard, I felt Cyberguard had superior products in the firewall industry,” Scott said in the press release that announced approval of the takeover by Cyberguard’s shareholders. “What was accomplished over the last five years is a testament to the management team we put in place and their commitment and focus.”

Scott kept nearly 4 million Secure shares when he joined Secure’s board after the transaction was completed in January 2006. He was briefly chairman before computer giant McAfee bought Secure in a $462 million cash deal in 2008. Scott walked away with $23 million.

INVESTMENT PARTNER RUNS SCOTT’S ‘BLIND TRUST’

SEC records identify Scott crony Alan L. Bazaar as another member of Fernwood Partners in the CyberGuard investment.

For a decade before Scott was elected governor, Bazaar helped manage his portfolio at the better-known Richard L. Scott Investments LLC. Today, as co-CEO of New York’s Hollow Brook Wealth Management, Bazaar oversees the “blind trust” established by the governor in 2011 to avoid conflicts of interest and manage much of his large personal investment portfolio.

Lobbyist William Rubin with Gov. Rick Scott Photo: Tampa Bay Times

Lobbyist William Rubin with Gov. Rick Scott Photo: Tampa Bay Times

Serving with Scott and Jenne on Cyberguard’s board was Fort Lauderdale lobbyist William D. Rubin, a longtime friend and political supporter of both men. Rubin was listed in SEC records as having 58,000 CyberGuard shares worth $510,000 in cash and stock.

In 2003, while together on CyberGuard’s board, Sheriff Jenne made Rubin an “honorary deputy sheriff.” He also bestowed a BSO “Friend of Children Award” on a lobbyist in Rubin’s firm, Noreen Reboso.

The Tampa Bay Times quoted Rubin about his friendship with Scott on the day of Scott’s election in November 2010.

“I got to know Rick in 1991 when he started his hospital company, and we’ve stayed close ever since. I love him,” said Rubin, who in 2009 lobbied in Tallahassee on behalf of Solantic, Scott’s walk-in clinic company. “He’s a very good friend. We’ve stayed in touch ever since.”

Rubin added that he would not benefit from Scott being in the Governor’s office. “I won’t be. I’ll quickly dispel that perception.”

Nevertheless, Rubin is today registered to lobby Scott and the Executive Branch on behalf of nearly 60 corporate and government clients, including Scott’s old firm, now called HCA Healthcare, and BSO under Sheriff Scott Israel.

Rubin did not respond to a request for comment.

Knowledgeable sources have said privately that they believe Rubin and/or Jenne prevailed upon Scott to appoint Sunrise City Attorney Kimberly Kisslan to the board of the North Broward Hospital District, also known as Broward Health, but there is no evidence to support it.

KISSLAN RESIGNATION TRIGGERS QUESTIONS

Kisslan resigned Oct. 18 – three months into her four-year term and two days after BrowardBulldog.org reported about her grand jury appearance under a grant of immunity.

Kisslan got into trouble with federal prosecutors due to personal legal work she did for Jenne while he was sheriff. Specifically, she and a BSO vendor coordinated the demolition of an old house with code compliance issues that Jenne owned in Lake Worth.

At the same time, Kisslan was negotiating a BSO lease extension with the vendor – quickly signed by Jenne – that called for the police agency to lease additional office space from him at a cost of $348,000.

The vendor, developer Philip Procacci, later paid the $8,130 demolition cost for Jenne and the matter became part of the corruption charges to which the sheriff pleaded guilty in September 2007.

Kisslan’s role in Jenne’s scheme is spelled out in public court documents filed at the time of his plea. Yet despite a background check, Gov. Scott was unaware of that damaging information when he installed Kisslan on Broward Health’s board, said spokesman John Tupps.

The governor’s office declined to discuss the vetting process for gubernatorial appointees.

There is, however, an intriguing Broward connection inside Scott’s Executive Appointments Office that dovetails back to both Jenne and Rubin.

Former Fort Lauderdale resident Carrie O’Rourke is the governor’s $116,000-a-year Director of External Affairs. Her duties include oversight of gubernatorial appointments.

From 2007-2009, O’Rourke was director of organizational development in Fort Lauderdale for Edify, LLC. That’s the health benefits consulting firm whose owners included convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.

Jenne worked at Rothstein’s law firm after his release from prison in 2008. And in September 2009, New Times reported that Edify paid Jenne’s son, former State Rep. Evan Jenne, $30,000 as a consultant.

As finance director for Scott’s inaugural committee, O’Rourke worked with Rubin and his lobbying firm, The Rubin Group, to select candidates for the governor’s transition healthcare team.

In December 2011, as the governor’s deputy chief of staff, O’Rourke traveled to Israel with Rubin and his wife Lys as part of a 48-member trade mission delegation led by Gov. Scott, according to Sunshine State News.

Governor’s office clams up about Kisslan resignation, breakdown in appointment process

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott’s office says it vetted Sunrise City Attorney Kimberly Kisslan before her recent appointment to the governing board of Broward Health, yet failed to uncover damaging information that led to her abrupt resignation last Friday amid an inquiry.

The governor’s office, however, has refused to explain that breakdown in the appointment process or say what steps, if any, were taken to ensure that such a lapse would not reoccur.

“In this case, either the vetting process was inadequate in design and execution or the appointee deliberately failed to disclose relevant information, or both,” said Anthony V. Alfieri, director of the University of Miami School of Law’s Center for Ethics and Public Service.

Said John Tupps, a spokesman for Gov. Scott, “Our office conducts appropriate back-grounding on all applicants.”

Kisslan was the sheriff’s legal counsel under Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne. Jenne went to prison in late 2007 after pleading guilty to federal corruption-related charges of mail fraud and filing false income tax returns.

While working for BSO, Kisslan did personal legal work for Jenne that later became a focus of the criminal investigation. On May 1, 2007, she testified under a grant of immunity before a grand jury after apparently invoking her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

While Kisslan’s testimony is secret, her role in Jenne’s scheme is a matter of public record in court papers that explain the factual basis for Jenne’s guilty plea.

Kimberly Kisslan as BSO general counsel in 2007. Photo: BSO

Kimberly Kisslan as BSO general counsel in 2007. Photo: BSO

One document signed by Jenne, his lawyers and prosecutors says Kisslan helped Jenne to coordinate with a BSO vendor to obtain the demolition of a house with code compliance issues that Jenne owned in Lake Worth. Philip Procacci, a developer who leased office space to BSO, later paid $8,130 to have the house demolished. Jenne never reported the payment on his income tax return.

Kisslan and Procacci appeared on Jenne’s behalf before the Lake Worth Code Enforcement Board on June 28, 2001. Kisslan later wrote the sheriff a memo about it, but “deliberately” didn’t use BSO letterhead because she knew it was personal work for Jenne, the document says

As Kisslan and Procacci were arranging for the demolition, Procacci and Kisslan also were negotiating an amendment to a BSO lease with Procacci for space in a Plantation building.

Sheriff Jenne signed the deal committing BSO to lease an additional 5,000 square feet of space for five years – at an added cost of $348,000 – two days after Kisslan and Procacci appeared on his behalf before the code enforcement board.

In addition to negotiating the lease deal, Kisslan witnessed Jenne’s signature, the document says.

Kisslan did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

An important duty of the governor is to appoint leaders to an array of government jobs – from a vacant judgeship or seat on a county commission to board members who serve on housing authorities, planning and service councils and hospital and water districts.

The governor’s appointments office supports Scott in his “major obligation to appoint qualified, representative and appropriate people.”

Requests to speak with Scott and Carrie O’Rouke, who oversees appointments as the Director of External Affairs, were declined by the governor’s office.

Individuals who have applied for and obtained appointments under Scott describe a process that is not necessarily uniform.

Gov. Scott interviews some applicants personally. Others he does not. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducts background checks if requested.

Applicants for a gubernatorial appointment are asked to complete under oath an eight-page questionnaire. Among the 30 questions: Have you ever been “arrested, charged or indicted” or “has probable cause ever been found that you were in violation of the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees?”

No follow up questions seek to explore the subject further.

Kisslan answered “no” to both questions on her questionnaire.

Broward Sheriff Israel makes winners out of Coventry Health Care, lobbyist Rubin

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

BSO's Ron Cochran Public Safety Complex   Photo: WPLG-Local 10

BSO’s Ron Cochran Public Safety Complex
Photo: WPLG-Local 10

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel has named incumbent and low-bidder Coventry Health Care of Florida as his choice to provide group medical insurance to BSO’s 5,800 employees – a contract worth more than $355 million over the next five years.

Israel directed BSO staff to enter into contract negotiations with Coventry on Friday after receiving rankings from an internal selection committee “and input from our labor union partners,” according to sheriff’s General Counsel Ron Gunzburger.

The Coventry deal marks the second large contract the sheriff has handed down in as many months.

In August, the sheriff chose Miami-based Armor Correctional Health Services to provide healthcare services to inmates at the Broward County Jail at a cost of about $143.6 million over five years. Unlike Coventry, Armor was not the low bidder.

Israel’s selection of Armor, and now Coventry, were big wins for those companies. But the sheriff’s choices also delivered huge victories to Fort Lauderdale lobbyist, William Rubin, who Israel hired in February for $7,000-a-month to lobby for him at Broward County.

Fort Lauderdale lobbyist William Rubin

Fort Lauderdale lobbyist William Rubin

The reason: Rubin’s other lobbying clients include Armor and Coventry.

Sheriff’s officials previously have said those conflicting relationships would nonetheless have no impact on the sheriff’s decision-making.

“It was made very clear that (Rubin and his firm) could not play any role in lobbying BSO on behalf of any of their other clients,” Gunzburger told BrowardBulldog.org after Rubin was hired.

Coventry’s bid proposed that BSO pay an annual premium of $71 million for medical and prescription drug coverage in 2014. That was $8.6 million less than that of its closest competitor, Humana Health Insurance. Cigna bid  $80.2 million; United Healthcare bid $82.5 million.

Coventry’s bid is about $1 million less than it currently charges, according to BSO.

Coventry has provided group medical benefits to BSO employees for 20 years under different names. HIP Health plan, which won the bid in 1993 under Sheriff Nick Navarro, merged in 2000 with other health benefit companies and became VISTA Healthplan. In 2007, VISTA was bought by Coventry, a Maryland-based firm with an office in Sunrise.

On May 7, Coventry was acquired by insurance giant Aetna in a deal valued at $8.7 billion when it closed, according to the Bloomberg news service. Coventry Health Care

“Coventry continues to be focused on helping BSO manage their dollars, enabling a sustainable, long-term benefits program,” Coventry Florida Chief Executive Christopher Ciano told Israel in a July 8 bid cover letter.

The contract to be negotiated with Coventry is for three years with two one-year renewal periods upon mutual agreement.

In the past, BSO asked bidding companies to provide specific dollar bids for each year of a proposal. Under Israel, bidders have been told to submit only one-year prices.

Without specific annual pricing, cost comparisons over the life of the contract are difficult. The final cost of such contracts is further obscured because, as a BSO spokesman has said, “the entire contract, including the contract amount, is subject to negotiation.”

Further clouding the ultimate amount BSO will pay are two alternative proposals that Coventry included in its bid proposal that will now be negotiated.

Those plans, featuring higher coverage levels for prescription drugs, would raise BSO’s annual cost more than $3 million to between $74.4 million and $74.8 million. The plans would lower “co-payments and deductibles to go toward maximum out-of-pocket enhancement.”

State records about Broward Sheriff altered; Israel to amend his financial disclosure

 By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Scott Israel at his swearing in ceremony in January Photo: CBS4

Scott Israel at his swearing in ceremony in January Photo: CBS4

Online state records that listed Broward Sheriff Scott Israel as a “principal” in a Weston private investigations firm, Talon/G6 Services, were altered last week to delete the sheriff’s name.

This week, the sheriff’s lawyer announced that Israel would amend his recently filed financial disclosure form after it was disclosed the sheriff had underreported how much money he was paid last year by a Fort Lauderdale private security company, Cambridge Security Services.

The changes follow inquiries about Israel’s business affairs by BrowardBulldog.org.

The Florida Division of Licensing removed Israel’s name from its records about Talon/G6 after deciding to accept a signed resignation letter from Israel that it had rejected only months before as inadequate, according to Division spokeswoman Erin Gillespie.

In the letter, dated April 20, 2011, Israel resigned as Talon/G6’s president and relinquished all ownership in corporate stock. The letter, however, was not received at the Division until last October, just a few weeks before Israel was elected.

The Division replied to Israel that proof – a notarized letter or corporate minutes reflecting the change – was required before Israel’s name would be dropped from its records, but no response was ever received, said Gillespie.

Israel remained listed as a principal of Talon/G6 until last week when the Division’s new chief of its Bureau of License Issuance, Stuart Scott, informed staff that Israel’s letter was now considered sufficient because a check of the state’s Division of Corporations website showed that Israel was no longer listed as company officer there.

Gillespie said the situation had not arisen before. She said Scott, who has been reviewing policies and procedures, made the change because he thought the Division’s old notification rule was “too bureaucratic.”

ISRAEL DISCLOSES HIS TAX RETURNS

The outside business ties of Broward’s elected officials, particularly the sheriff, have been a matter of keen public interest since 2005 when news of then-Sheriff Ken Jenne’s private business dealings touched off a federal investigation that landed Jenne in prison.

Sensitive to that, Sheriff Israel provided BrowardBulldog.org with copies of his federal income tax returns for 2011 and 2012. They show that in 2011 he claimed a passive loss of $8,200 on his investment in Talon/G6, an indication he indeed sold his stake that year.

But the sheriff’s 2012 tax return also revealed that Israel underreported his income on his signed and notarized Full and Public Disclosure of Financial Interest form filed with Florida’s Commission on Ethics on June 27.

Israel reported on the form that “Cambridge Securities,” 5100 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, paid him $13,350 last year. The company, however, does not deal in stocks and bonds. Its actual name is Cambridge Security Services and it provides security guards and intelligence consulting.

Israel’s 1040 form states that Cambridge Security Services really paid him $27,000 in 2012 for his services as a “security executive.”

BSO general counsel Ron Gunzburger, the sheriff’s lawyer, called those discrepancies a “scrivener’s error” and said “the sheriff will be filing an amended (disclosure) form.”

Still, Israel’s public resume and his Facebook page recount his professional experience, including Talon/G6, but do not mention Cambridge Security.

At Talon/G6, Israel’s partner was James Scarberry, a former Hollywood police chief. Scarberry gained notoriety in 2007 after federal prosecutors said they were forced prematurely to shut down a two-year FBI undercover investigation of police corruption in Hollywood after Scarberry leaked word of the probe to the mayor, city manager and at least a half-dozen others.

“We were betrayed by the police chief,” retired FBI agent Jack Garcia told Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm in 2008.

NEW STOCKHOLDER TIED TO JENNE SCANDAL

Who bought Israel’s Talon/G6 shares?

According to Scarberry, it was a former BSO vendor with unsavory ties to ex-sheriff Ken Jenne.

“He sold his interest to Lewis Nadel,” said Scarberry, who remains with Talon/G6. Asked how much Nadel paid, Scarberry said, “I don’t want to discuss it with you.”

Nadel, vice president of Talon/G6, was a central player in the corruption case that led to Sheriff Jenne’s downfall six years ago.

Nadel was then president of Innovative Surveillance Technology, a company that had sold over $250,000 worth of equipment to BSO between 2003 and 2005. He also owned an eponymous consulting and training company for law enforcement agencies.

According to the charges to which Jenne pleaded guilty, Jenne provided Nadel with access to off-duty sheriffs deputies that Nadel would hire to do work for his companies. In exchange for that access, Nadel paid a total of $5,500 to Jenne’s executive assistant – money that ended up in Jenne’s bank account, prosecutors said.

Asked about the sheriff’s Talon/G6 stock sale, Gunzburger put distance between the sheriff and Nadel.

“The sheriff sold his shares directly back to the corporation in April 2011” for $5,000, Gunzburger said. “The corporation subsequently sold at least some of those shares to Mr. Nadel. But there was not any direct transfer/sale of shares, nor any exchange of money between Mr. Nadel and the sheriff.

While Scarberry, Gunzburger and Nadel himself all said that Nadel owns a piece of Talon/G6, his status is not reflected in state records. The Division of Licensing only shows that Nadel currently holds a license as a private investigator intern. Gillespie said the company has been asked “to file the appropriate information.”

A stock purchase agreement filed with the state says that a Pompano company called Tecwatch paid $5,000 for 50 percent of Talon/G’s stock on the same day Israel signed his letter of resignation.

Tecwatch’s lone corporate officer, director Thomas Strok, signed that agreement. Strok and Nadel are longtime co-directors of the South Florida Crime Commission, a nonprofit that does good deeds for law enforcement agencies.

Strok did not return messages seeking comment.

Nadel confirmed that he owns part of Talon/G6, but not via Tecwatch. He added that his friend’s investment was intended to help Israel by taking the company off his hands.

“Tom owns Tecwatch. I have nothing to do with Tecwatch,” said Nadel. “Tecwatch assumed (Israel’s) points so he could run for sheriff.”

Broward homicide detective blows whistle on Sheriff Israel; alleges cover up and retaliation

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Broward Sheriff's Homicide Detective Jeffrey Kogan Photo: A&E Network

Broward Sheriff’s Homicide Detective Jeffrey Kogan Photo: A&E Network

A Broward Sheriff’s homicide detective has filed a whistleblower suit alleging that Sheriff Scott Israel and members of his command staff sought to cover up misconduct by a Fort Lauderdale canine officer at an arrest scene.

Jeffrey Kogan, a featured detective on the A&E channel’s police reality show “The First 48,” contends he was ostracized and demoted to road patrol after reporting he saw the dog handler unnecessarily sic the animal on a murder suspect who was in custody and no longer a threat.

Sheriff Israel, a former Fort Lauderdale police officer, is the lone defendant in the nine-page complaint filed July 12 in Broward Circuit Court. He is accused of engaging in or allowing “unlawful retribution and retaliation,” including “verbal abuse, harassment and intimidation for reporting official misconduct and participating in its investigation.”

Kogan is a 12-year BSO veteran and, according to his A&E biography, a homicide detective since 2009. His complaint says his record until now was unblemished.

On April 3, Kogan was investigating the fatal stabbing of 20-year-old Keema Gooding at a home at 3024 NW Eighth Court, in unincorporated Fort Lauderdale. A resident of the home, Walter Hart III, 19, was quickly identified as the prime suspect.

Hours later detectives developed information that Hart was possibly hiding at another residence located within Fort Lauderdale’s city limits. In standard protocol, BSO asked for the assistance of city police, the lawsuit said.

Murder suspect Walter Hart III  Photo: BSO

Murder suspect Walter Hart III Photo: BSO

Early the next morning, police arrived and suspect Hart fled out the back door. City officers waiting in the back yard nabbed him.

When Kogan heard Hart was in custody he walked into the back yard accompanied by the unnamed Fort Lauderdale canine officer and another policeman.

The complaint filed by plaintiff’s lawyer Tonja Haddad Coleman says Kogan “observed the suspect sitting on the ground near the rear door with his hands behind his back. He was not resisting any officers or being combative in any way.”

Kogan “then witnessed the FLPD canine officer unnecessarily deploy his canine, who bit the suspect on his right arm,” the complaint says. Kogan immediately reported the incident to his direct supervisor, BSO Sgt. Dave Ellwood, another star of “The First 48”.

Attorney Coleman was not available for comment.

BSO spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright said, “Without going into any details regarding the pending litigation, we believe the facts will show BSO acted correctly in this matter.”

A BSO press release at the time said Hart was captured with “the assistance of a Fort Lauderdale police dog.”

Hart’s Fort Lauderdale lawyer, Sidney Fleischman, declined to discuss the extent of his client’s injuries, but did say that Hart was hospitalized because of them.

Fleischman said he was not aware until Wednesday of either the state attorney’s investigation or Kogan’s lawsuit.

Three days after Hart’s arrest, an unidentified assistant state attorney assigned to prosecute Hart for murder contacted Kogan to ask about the charge of resisting arrest that was added to the case. Kogan told him what he’d seen, touching off a probe of the canine officer by the state attorney’s public corruption unit, the complaint says.

On May 7, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent working with prosecutors called Kogan seeking a sworn statement. Kogan told his supervisor about the agent’s inquiry.

The next day, Captain Rafael Perez, commander of BSO’s Criminal Investigations Division, asked Kogan about the matter and then told him he would notify Sheriff Israel via the chain of command. He told Kogan to contact his union officials.

On May 30, Kogan was removed from the homicide rotation. He continued to report to work in homicide, but “was prohibited from working cases,” the complaint says.

Kogan was subpoenaed a few days later to appear before prosecutors to give a sworn statement. After that, Perez suggested to Kogan that he might want to put in a request for transfer. Kogan refused.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel

On June 10, Perez informed Kogan he was being transferred out of homicide. A few minutes later, BSO homicide Sgt. Steve Feeley called Kogan to get the names of the FDLE agent and the prosecutor who were investigating the dog bite incident.

Perez later advised Kogan “to let things blow over about the incident, and that if he did so, at some point in time he might be able to relocate.”

Kogan’s demotion was effective June 25th. The same day Kogan appeared in answer to the subpoena. The complaint says he “reiterated the incident involving the FLPD canine officer, and then told them all of the events regarding the adverse action taken against” him by BSO.

At the same time, the unnamed FDLE agent told Kogan “the sheriff did, in fact, call his superior at FDLE to inquire about this investigation,” the complaint says.

Kogan’s complaint suggests, but does not specifically allege, that Sheriff Israel’s coziness with his former department is behind what happened to him.

Israel “hired countless employees from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department,” the complaint says. It also notes that “several executives of Israel’s command staff” are former city officers.

Broward Sheriff picks Armor for lucrative jail contract; questions about cost, care linger

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Broward County Jail

Broward County Jail

UPDATE: Aug. 8 — Broward Sheriff Scott Israel has chosen Miami’s Armor Correctional Health Services for another lucrative term providing  medical, dental and other care to the county’s jail inmates despite complaints from the Public Defender’s Office, which represents many of the detainees, that the care is substandard.

Armor’s bid is also more than $13 million higher over five years than that of the low bidder.

“The sheriff has approved the recommendation…This means that BSO will begin negotiations with the top-ranked firm, Armor,” said BSO spokeswoman Keyla Concepcion.

If a contract can’t be reached, an unlikely prospect, negotiations would begin with the second-ranked firm, Corizon, formerly known as Prison Health Services.

If a contract with Armor can be finalized, it will likely cost Broward’s taxpayers about $143.6 million over five years — or $13.6 million more than what Corizon, the low bidder, offered, according to an analysis of bid proposals.

Armor has served as the sheriff’s jail healthcare provider since 2004.

An in-house selection committee recommended Armor to Israel last month. Neither the committee, nor the sheriff, has publicly explained why they preferred Armor’s more costly proposal.

Quality of care is as important as price in evaluating the jail healthcare proposals. Yet BSO’s selection committee also sought no independent local assessment of Armor’s performance from the agency that represents many of Broward’s inmates.

The opinion of the Broward Public Defender’s Office is that Armor’s care at the jail is substandard.

“Of all the jail healthcare providers I have worked with over the last 24 years, perhaps none challenge me in my role as a liaison quite like Armor,” said Shane Gunderson, the public defender’s director of client services, in a memo last month. “Armor practically spits in the face of nearly all common assumptions of what compassionate care in general should be.”

Gunderson serves as an intermediary between Armor’s staff and his office’s client-patients. He was asked to write the memo by Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.

“I thought it was strange that BSO never asked our opinion,” Finkelstein said.

Under Armor, Gunderson wrote, communication between the Public Defender and both Armor and BSO is constrained.

“Since October 2004 when Armor became the BSO jail heath care provider, I have had to follow a highly formal process of letter and email exchanges with no face-to-face contact and very little phone communication with Armor to solve inmate health complaints,” Gunderson wrote. Often, he said, the responses he receives are incomplete or unclear.

Gunderson reported having no contact with the BSO lieutenant in charge of monitoring contract compliance by Armor, but said he does regularly forward him copies of all medical complaints the PD’s office sends to Armor.

Gunderson said inmates contact him “because there has been a breakdown or flaw in the jail sick-call process.” He criticized Armor for insisting that inmates fill out a sick call request form when they should instead call him directly for help.

“Many of our clients are mentally ill and can’t understand written procedures. At jail intake, a client may not remember his or her doctor’s name and medical treatment information,” the memo says.

The six-page memo includes a number of examples of complaints about “poor treatment” by Armor. Several involve inmates who reported problems with their medications.

Problems have happened when Armor sought to substitute a medication that an inmate later refused to take because it made him sicker, the memo says.

“I have seen examples where Armor does not remedy this situation…does not offer an alternative or provide treatment in place of the drug that caused bad side effects,” Gunderson said.

Gunderson cited other kinds of allegedly poor care by Armor, including the improper treatment of inmates who need detox services or who suffer from HIV/AIDS.

“Armor is slow, late and in some cases unwilling to provide dental services, hernia operations and optometry. There are frequent delays involving these types of sick call requests, exams and follow up care,” the memo says.

Gunderson’s boss, Howard Finkelstein, says the underlying problem with the quality of care is the privatization of jail healthcare services, a practice that began in Broward in the early 1980s.

“It’s all about saving dollars,” said Finkelstein. “The only way these healthcare providers make a profit is by not providing services, because almost all of their costs are fixed with the exception of the medical care they provide.”

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