Bad Operation

Prominent parasites bleed the taxpayers in the name of medicine

We're being robbed blind -- $100 million blind.

That's how much money a couple of politically connected developers stand to make on a medical office building they're set to construct for the taxpayer-funded North Broward Hospital District.

When the $30 million project near Broward General Hospital on South Andrews Avenue is completed, the well-heeled developers will then lease it to the district at $3.1 million annually for 55 years -- for a grand total of $170 million out of our pockets.

Allow me to repeat: NBHD, which oversees four public hospitals, has agreed to pay $170 million for a $30 million building. And you wonder why the cost of health care is so outrageous?

A local bond broker who has handled NBHD financing in the past told me that the district could likely secure a loan at about 8 percent. Over 20 years, the cost would be about $3 million a year, for a grand total of $60 million.

That's a $110 million difference. Throw $10 million out of the equation to give the district some benefit of the doubt and it's merely a $100 million boondoggle.

Instead of owning the building outright in the 2020s, taxpayers won't own the building until, oh, about 2060, which means NBHD is not only selling our future but also our children's.

And that giant sucking sound you hear is coming from your own back pocket. The district's $720 million annual budget is paid by taxes -- including $155 million from property taxes.

So everyone is in an uproar over this stunning public ripoff, right? Citizens are demanding the resignations of NBHD CEO Wil Trower and every hospital board member who approved the disastrous deal, right? The developers have been tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on the Florida East Coast rail, right?

Of course not. That would be too sane. The feds did become involved, however. Last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Attorney's Office began investigating the deal, temporarily stalling it. But federal prosecutor Neil Karadbil, who is handling the case, won't say whether the probe is continuing, and, last month, the district again kick-started the project. NBHD spokeswoman Sara Howley refused to comment, other than to say the feds determined that everything about it is hunky-dory.

So it's a go, unless someone -- anyone -- can put a stop to it. There's still time: While the district board of commissioners has approved the plan, details are still being hammered out, and the papers haven't yet been signed.

The developers set to receive the huge windfall are Terry Stiles and William Murphy. At least, those will be the names on the contract; the real demon seed behind this debacle is Murphy's long-time partner, M. Austin Forman, a man who has made millions by persuading governments and politicians -- on whom he lavishes campaign contributions -- to pay inflated prices for his land. His past is littered with little scandals, like the time he promised Broward County that he would build a "World Trade Mart" near the convention center at Port Everglades. He failed spectacularly and then convinced the commission to forgive him a $1.7 million loan. And who can forget the time Broward County paid Forman $2 million for an old rundown building appraised at $900,000. Turned out the place wasn't even fit for its intended use. That was a classic. There are many more examples, but you get the picture.

Forman declined to comment; he never talks to the media. Why should he explain himself? The normal rules don't apply to this prominent parasite, whose main credential is his birthright: He's the son of Broward patriarch Hamilton Forman, the land baron and chairman of the hospital district board from 1961 to 1991.

Sound incestuous? We haven't even begun -- this deal is so inbred, it ought to be confined to a locked room in the basement of the royal palace. Bloodsuckers like Austin Forman couldn't exist without good hosts, and Broward's public officials are nothing if not that. The office building deal began with an unholy relationship: Back in 2000, Forman became buddies with Patricia "Patty" Mahaney, then the NBHD's chief financial officer.

Forman wined and dined both Mahaney, who was then making $258,000 a year, and her husband, Thomas. Hamilton's son even took the Mahaneys with him on a vacation to Africa, where they visited Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls, according to court records.

When Thomas Mahaney became involved in a software business called ADS Responscorp Inc., Forman chipped in $100,000 to $150,000 to become a partner in the venture, according to FBI reports. Patty Mahaney then negotiated a deal between her husband's company and the hospital district.

Shady, yes. Illegal, maybe. Trower, who didn't return my calls, approved the software deal knowing full well his CFO's connection to the company.

But the software shenanigan was small potatoes compared with what followed. Also in 2000, the hospital district decided it needed an office building to help attract doctors. At the same time, Forman and Murphy were buying up property on the 1600 block of nearby South Andrews Avenue. Mahaney told the feds that Murphy contacted her to see if the hospital district would be interested in the land, but she claims her good friend Forman never broached the subject.

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