By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Dorsey Miller, one of the most powerful black Republicans in Florida, often plays the role of civil rights champion. And, as the former diversity czar for Broward County schools and current commissioner for the North Broward Hospital District (NBHD), the nation's sixth-largest public health entity, he's usually in a position to be heard. Only sometimes it's a little surprising what he says.
Miller, a rather intense, balding, and bespectacled man who looks much younger than his 61 years, last month urged hospital district leaders to hire more minority companies to share in the public health system's $800 million-plus budget. "America for me is still not the America I dream of..." he declared at the dais in Broward General Medical Center's auditorium on May 25. "We still have a problem with Asian and black vendors getting their fair share of the business."
He uttered the word so fast and in the midst of such a rambling speech that it was easy to miss. Asian. Why would he single out Asians, who comprise only 2 percent of the Broward County population, own few local companies, and already do more than their fair share of business at the district?
One likely answer comes in the form of hard cash, according to interviews and records obtained by New Times. Miller receives a monthly stipend and occasional five-figure bonus checks from Miami-based American Medical Depot (AMD), which distributes supplies to the hospital district he governs. AMD, an Asian company, has paid a consulting firm owned by Miller at least $100,000 during the past few years and is contracted to send the commissioner monthly $3,500 checks until the end of 2007. All told, Miller expects to make at least a quarter million dollars from the deal.
In return, the commissioner plays rainmaker for AMD, drumming up new government contracts. And the firm's hospital district business has grown at an astounding rate since Miller was hired in October 2001. Before that time, AMD had done only nominal work for the district, less than $2,000 per year in gross receipts. In 2002, Miller, while serving as chairman of the district's Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) committee, helped shift millions to AMD. The payoff was immediate: The company snagged a contract worth $3.25 million in district business last year and is projected to bring in $5 million in 2004, making it one of NBHD's most active minority companies.
And what about those black-owned firms? Well, they haven't fared as well. In fact, all African-American companies combined now make less at the district than AMD. Asian firms do twice the district business of black companies. This is despite the fact that 20 percent of the Broward population is black -- almost ten times the Asian population.
When asked about AMD, Miller wouldn't discuss the issue at length but denied that the company paid him for helping it secure district contracts. Rather, he received the cash for helping AMD make connections with other county and state governments. "The money they paid me was for other things," Miller said.
If Miller did accept money to help a private firm win contracts at the district, he'd be in violation of Florida's unlawful-compensation law, a second-degree felony that forbids public officials from profiting from their governmental duties. The Broward State Attorney's Office, in fact, is currently conducting a criminal inquiry into Miller's relationship with AMD, New Timeshas learned. It's a spinoff of the much-publicized investigation involving former Supervisor of Elections Miriam Oliphant and Broward's controversial purchase of electronic voting machines, which also involved dubious deals between Miller and AMD.
Three highly placed district sources, who have intimate knowledge of NBHD business, allege that Miller engineered American Medical Depot's windfall. "Dorsey Miller backed American Medical Depot all along," says one district employee, who demanded anonymity for fear of losing his or her job.
But Miller's story is more than a case of a wrong-doing public official -- it's a portal into the greedy underside of the well-intentioned policy to increase minority participation in government business. And Miller could never have done it without his friend Gov. Jeb Bush, who appointed him to the board.
The connection between Miller and AMD provides yet more evidence that the district health empire, which is subsidized with $174 million in local property taxes, is critically mismanaged and routinely operates outside the bounds of ethics and the law. A top district official was convicted of embezzlement last year; a federal grand jury is investigating a building project sullied by grossly inflated pay and insider dealing; and during the past six months, New Timeshas exposed several sweetheart contracts, millions in waste, and serious conflicts of interest.
While blame for this pattern of abuse can be spread on district commissioners and staff, it is Jeb Bush, who appointed the board and has strong ties to district officials, who is ultimately accountable. Yet the governor has been publicly silent on the problems. In fact, his office recently praised the district as a model "responsible corporate citizen." To understand why the governor may want to avoid the growing scandal, consider that NBHD serves as his chief base of power in Broward County and that its ranks are packed with GOP fundraisers and lobbyists. Board members and some district officials have raised hundreds of thousands for the governor and his brother President Bush.