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
American Medical Depot's first significant NBHD job came in March of that year, when the MBE committee voted to award AMD a $60,000 job to distribute catheters and other products. Miller recused himself from the vote "for personal reasons," according to meeting minutes, which don't indicate that he revealed his business relationship with AMD. At the time, the commissioner also didn't file a conflict-of-interest form, which is required by state law.
Whether Miller was involved in steering that award to AMD is unclear, but it's quite evident that he played a major role in what became known among district administrators as the "$6 million conversion." The idea, which sources say originated with Miller, was to transfer $6 million worth of supply business to minority companies, with the lion's share slated to go to none other than American Medical Depot.
During the June MBE meeting, Miller discussed the conversion plan. An excerpt from the meeting minutes: "Commissioner Miller asked... if it was realistic to have the $6 million converted to minority vendors within one month... Miller asked for clarification of the $6 million list... Miller would like the conversion of the $6 million dollars to minority vendors expedited to the soonest possible completion date."
On September 19, 2002, the MBE committee -- composed of Miller, Trower, Gainey, and two other district officials -- approved the $6 million conversion. Miller recused himself, but again, there is no indication he disclosed his relationship with AMD. The recusal paved the way for Trower to conduct the vote. "Dorsey pretty much ramrodded that $6 million through, and no one was going to stand up to him, least of all Wil Trower, who exists to please the commissioners," one of the three district sources says.
Again, Miller didn't file the required conflict-of-interest form after the meeting. But the deal wasn't sealed -- the board of commissioners still had to approve the committee's actions. That came at a November 26 meeting -- and Miller voted to approve the MBE committee report and minutes, which obviously constitutes a vote for the shift in business that went to AMD.
Five days after Miller voted to close the deal, the company raised his monthly pay from $1,000 to $3,500 a month. Akhil Agrawal contends that the commissioner helped American Medical Depot land business outside the district but refused to give an example. "He has brought significant other contracts to AMD, but I don't want to get into that, because it's a business relationship," he told New Times.
That new contract was signed just as the Agrawal family began reaping huge rewards from NBHD. While the firm had done no business with the district in the first eight months of 2002, it garnered more than $300,000 in the last four months of that year. The following year, the company conducted $3.25 million in business, and this year, it has consistently been doing a healthy $350,000 to $400,000 a month.
While AMD has arrived at the district, black-owned companies are still waiting. According to NBHD records, African-American firms are earning just 1.37 percent of district business while Asians are now pulling in 2.88 percent of the hospital system's pie.
A Responsible Corporate Citizen?
It's so bad that the district procurement staff solicited bids on about $22 million worth of supply business that included all of AMD's $4 million-plus of current work. AMD bid for the project, but staff chose Cardinal Health, which beat the Agrawal family's offer by nearly $300,000 per year. That decision means AMD could lose almost all the business that Miller helped it get.
But the new contract is in limbo, district sources say, because Miller and other district officials -- including Trower and general counsel Scherer -- are protecting AMD. To be sure, Scherer's office has been involved in the delay: Earl Hall, a lawyer in Scherer's firm assigned to the MBE committee, met with district staffers and warned them that the contract, as it stood, would never be approved by the commission, sources said.
Hall acknowledges that he met with district staffers regarding AMD but denies he ever said such a thing. He insists he was there only to follow up on a complaint that Akhil Agrawal had made in a letter to Gainey about the bid process. "I investigated a complaint; I wasn't there to push for American Medical Depot," says Hall, adding that he determined that Agrawal's allegations were unfounded.
As the delay continues, AMD keeps raking in business at taxpayers' expense. And even as the purchasing department fell into conflict over the Miller/AMD connection and black businesses floundered, the district was given a diversity award during the last monthly board meeting. Premier Inc., a huge medical supply buying group that the district patronizes, presented the award in honor of the district's work in hiring minority companies.
The value of the prize is dubious; Premier has had its share of ignominy. In 2002, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee harshly criticized it for conflicts of interest and insider deals that had been exposed in a series of New York Timesarticles. And because NBHD almost exclusively uses supply firms that are aligned with Premier, the corporation surely had a financial motive to throw the district a prize.
But the governor's office seemed blissfully unaware of the nature of the award -- and couldn't have issued more effusive praise to the district for it. At the meeting, Gainey proudly read a letter from Windell Paige, a Bush appointee who runs the state's Office of Supplier Diversity and, according to the state website, "directs the 'Equity in Contracting' side of the Florida One Initiative." In the letter, written on behalf of the governor and read by Gainey at the board meeting, Paige issued a "hearty congratulations" to NBHD for its "special recognition" and deemed the district "one of Florida's most enlightened and responsible corporate citizens." Asserting that "success begins at the top," Paige wrote that Trower and all the board members deserve special thanks for their work, which "needs to be duplicated throughout the State of Florida."