The Dearly Departed

Tax collectors and employees alike have decried Susan Telli's free-spending, power-hungry ways at Broward's Hospice Care. So why is she still in charge?

Miller was fired and Telli was put on administrative leave while another accounting firm, Keefe, McCullough & Co., was called in to do a more thorough audit of the hospice.

In November 1993 the Herald published an article on Miller's firing. Telli called her own administrative leave a "little vacation."

"There are some discrepancies," she said in the article. "I don't know what they are. I don't want to comment."

When a New Times reporter recently knocked on Miller's townhouse door in Sunrise and mentioned the hospice, Miller, who now works at a Target store and has never spoken publicly about her firing, quickly lost her temper. "I don't want to talk about it!" she screamed. "Leave me alone! I'm having a terrible time! I wrecked my car last week!"

In late 1993 Mary O'Donnell says she grew hopeful that Telli, like Miller, would be fired. Convinced that Telli would remain, O'Donnell resigned.

"She is the most lethal human being I've ever met in my life," O'Donnell says of Telli. "What is so hard to explain with her is her deviousness. A hell of a lot of people aren't going to believe all of this. She can be the most charming person, and she can have some extraordinarily good ideas. When she decides she's going to get somebody, the somebody might not even realize it until they suddenly realize they are going to be fired or forced to resign. I felt terribly betrayed by Susan. But the board is as culpable as Susan is. They've never listened to anybody else."

Board members, meanwhile, won't talk about any of it publicly.

Telli's rule over Hospice Care has been hit with more than just financial scandal -- there have also been instances of apparent conflicts of interest among some of the powerful friends she recruited as board members and hospice contributors.

One such friend was Michael Curran, an outspoken supporter of Hospice Care and a contributor. During the '80s and early '90s, Curran was a key figure in the Republican Party who was elected to the Wilton Manors City Commission. He was also an influential businessman who owned an investment firm called First Lauderdale Securities and served as the chairman of the Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce.

Former hospice employees say Telli made no secret of her investments in First Lauderdale and encouraged them to do the same. When Ploutz, as the hospice director of finance, put some hospice money in another investment firm, he says Telli was angry that he hadn't put the money in First Lauderdale.

"I just felt it was better to keep [hospice finances] totally away from Susan's friends," Ploutz says. "I didn't want anything we did to even look like it may have been done as a favor for someone."

It was later discovered, according to news media accounts, that Curran had defrauded $3.2 million from family members and close friends, including Telli, who lost some $77,000. Ploutz says that after Curran's arrest he got a call from a tearful Telli, who was thankful he hadn't sunk the hospice money into Curran's firm.

Some former Hospice Care employees were also troubled by the hospice's business arrangements with Ned Skiff, the current board president. Skiff's firm, Ruttger-Skiff Associates, does the landscaping work at the hospice, located at 309 SE 18th Street. And when Skiff worked for a company called Deliverex, that company also got a contract to store hospice business records. Skiff told New Times that the jobs he's done for Hospice Care were bid out and that his companies came in with the lowest bids. He also admits that Ruttger-Skiff recently drew up plans to do $10,000 in landscaping for Hospice Care.

Skiff insists he hasn't taken any commission for the work his company has done for the hospice. "We did it at cost," he says. "I had our agency consult with legal counsel to verify that everything was hunky and dory," he says.

And then there is the $140 bill for a party at Skiff's house. Former hospice executive Gent says Telli told her it was a political fundraising party for Skiff's run for the city commission, one of two times he lost bids for the office. Skiff refused to comment about the party bill, saying it was part of the IRS audit.

"Ned has not been as ethical as he should be," Buntrock says.
When asked if he has behaved ethically as a Hospice Care board member, Skiff refused to comment, saying he'd been told by legal counsel --after initially addressing some issues -- not to say a word now about anything hospice-related.

In 1995 the IRS audited hospice finances for the years 1992 and 1993 after learning of the problems that cropped up in other audits. In a secret five-page agreement, which has been obtained by New Times, the IRS spells out what it found and what it believes should be done to the hospice: "The Service has determined that the exempt status should properly be revoked due to inurement activities, and the organization has agreed that such revocation would be justified."

But instead the IRS, citing the "best interests" of both itself and the hospice, decided to "settle, by agreement, all issues and matters currently in issue."

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