By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
The fact that George W. Bush is running for reelection this year and that Florida is expected to again be heavily contested only complicates the governor's predicament. He needs the district juggernaut to come through for the president, even if it is riddled with opportunists who have violated the public trust while capitalizing on the Bushes' pro-business, antiregulatory approach to government.
Miller, who has generally steered clear of scandal in the past, is the newest embarrassment for the governor and, to a lesser extent, the president. The White House recently tapped Miller to help bring black votes to the president this November. And the commissioner did the same job for Jeb Bush back in 2002, serving as the African-American outreach coordinator for the governor's reelection campaign. At that time, Jeb Bush, who didn't return calls seeking comment for this article, termed Miller a "good friend" and "stalwart supporter."
Miller's associates at American Medical Depot are also in the Bush family's good graces. In 2002, the governor named AMD, which does millions in business for state prisons and hospitals, the "Minority Vendor of the Year" for Florida and praised the company as a shining example of the success of his controversial One Florida plan, which has effectively ended affirmative action in the state. "These are businesses that win because of price and quality," Bush declared. "They're not winning because we've created set-asides and quotas and preferential pricing, which are flawed approaches to embrace diversity."
The $20 million-a-year firm has been owned since 1993 by two brothers, Akhil and Sukrit Agrawal, who were born in New Delhi and moved to South Florida as adolescents. Their father, Piyush, is a former Miami-Dade County math supervisor and New Jersey schools superintendent, and has also played a strong role in developing the company. Piyush Agrawal is a board member and past-president of the Association of Indians in America (AIA), making him a powerful national representative of the Indian community.
In March 2001, Piyush was one of just a select few Indian representatives whom President Bush invited to the White House to discuss his tax cut plan. Later that year, the president appointed one of Piyush's close associates at AIA, Gopal Khanna, to a high post in the Peace Corps.
Later that year, the Agrawal family contributed $2,000 to Jeb Bush. Before that, family members had given exclusively to Democrats in statewide races. And today, the Agrawals are prized supporters of both the governor and the president.
To understand their influence, one need only revisit a September 9, 2003, presidential fundraiser at Hyatt Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale. Piyush and Akhil attended a private VIP reception before the affair, where the AMD patriarch personally urged the president to celebrate Diwali, a Hindu festival. Six weeks later, on October 23, the White House celebrated Diwali for the first time, with the Agrawals in attendance and Bush senior adviser Karl Rove lighting a ceremonial lamp to kick off the event.
Miller and the Agrawals have friends in very high places, but their most valuable Republican ally right now might be the man who organized the Pier 66 fundraiser, William Scherer, the district's general counsel and one of the Bush brothers' top operatives in South Florida. Scherer has represented Miller in the AMD investigation, meeting with prosecutor John Hanlon, who is handling the case, and sending at least one letter -- which blatantly misstates the facts in favor of Miller -- in an attempt to exonerate the commissioner [see "A Misleading Missive," at end].
Scherer also happens to be a top political contributor to Broward State Attorney Michael Satz. In fact, he and his business partners have contributed about $15,000, amounting to nearly 5 percent of all contributions Satz has received since 1995. That relationship may bode well for Miller. The state attorney's record too should give the commissioner some solace -- Satz has successfully prosecuted only a handful of Broward government officials during 27 years in office.
The evidence that New Timeshas gathered from district sources, county records, interviews, and the state attorney's own investigation, however, may be too much for Satz to ignore. And it all begins with the delivery of toilet paper to Broward County hospitals about a decade ago.
Cracking the District
After 13 years working as an administrator for Broward schools, Dorsey Miller hit a crisis in 1993. School Board members roundly criticized a program he ran that was designed to improve test scores for disadvantaged students. With $35 million spent on the program, the board termed it a failure and cut funding.
But Miller, who kept his $96,000-a-year School Board job, had other professional interests. At that time, he was starting his own company, D.C. Miller & Associates. With just a 1988 van and his political connections, he planned to become a distributor of custodial products to local governments. Miller set out to win minority certification for his firm so he could snare public contracts allotted to those companies.
The first entity to certify D.C. Miller & Associates was his employer, the School Board. And, according to Miller's application to the district, the only government job his company held in 1993 was a $3,500 supply contract with Broward schools. This apparent conflict of interest wasn't publicized at the time, but it serves as an early sign that Miller knew well how to mix his public position with his private business.