Bleeding Dollars

A former Broward hospital CEO's trail of dubious expenses is just a drip in the bucket

When Alan Levine left his post in late 2006 in then-Gov. Jeb Bush's administration to take the top job at the North Broward Hospital District, he made sure to get paid.

Not only did Levine, a rising star in national GOP circles, negotiate a deal that would pay him a hefty $670,000 in salary and bonuses but he also received a car allowance and a secret $35,000 payment to relocate to Broward County.

It's the relocation payment — along with a few personal travel expenses Levine charged to the district — that has caused some controversy at the district. The hospital agency, which now goes by the name Broward Health, is supported with taxpayer dollars.

The controversy arises because Levine, who left the district at the beginning of this year to take a job as Louisiana's top public health official, never actually relocated.

The questionable payments to Levine were discovered in a recent review by the auditing department, and the revelations do more than sully Levine's squeaky-clean image. They also provide more evidence of the district's dubious spending on high-ranking employees.

The public health system, which runs five hospitals, including flagship Broward General, often behaves like a big-spending corporation, and taxpayers, who have pumped $200 million into it, are left holding the bill.

Levine's relocation agreement primarily covered the "reasonable cost of moving the newly recruited employee's household goods from Tallahassee, FL to the Fort Lauderdale area," according to a copy of the document that he signed on July 19, 2006.

Those household goods, however, stayed in Tallahassee with his wife and teenaged daughter. Instead of relocating, he rented an apartment and traveled every weekend to the family home while serving as CEO for the district.

Further, Levine produced no receipts, though the agreement specifies that he is to be reimbursed. Despite the lack of documentation, Levine was paid the $35,000 in a lump sum.

Board member Robert Bernstein, who was Levine's closest friend on the board, says he believes the relocation agreement should have been presented to the board. But at the same time, he denounces audit director David Richstone's investigation.

Bernstein said Richstone recently called him about the investigation and he told the auditor that he should shut it down immediately.

"I said, 'As far as I'm concerned you're wasting the board's time and money by investigating Alan on this,'" Bernstein recalls. "There was no fiduciary duty for Alan to do anything because Alan wasn't working for the board at the time."

Bernstein said he told Richstone that if he brought the investigation before the board, he would ask for his resignation.

With the investigation in limbo, Levine says he didn't learn about it until I called him last week. The former CEO insists he did nothing wrong.

He says he spent nearly $60,000 on rent and furniture on the apartment he rented during his tenure at the district.

The agreement includes a provision that says "the newly recruited employee can utilize relocation moneys for temporary living expenses if there is a delay in moving into a residence."

The "delay" in Levine's case, however, was 18 months, the entire time he was employed by the public health system.

"This is something we negotiated on the front end," Levine says. "It's easier just to get a lump sum. I'm pretty sure we went by the book. I don't have any discomfort with what was negotiated. If the board did something wrong with how they negotiated it, I don't know how to respond. I negotiated for me."

In addition to the relocation payment controversy, auditors found that Levine had charged some personal travel expenses to the district. Though the nature of the improper charges hasn't been made public, Levine says he has been made aware of two specific cases, one in which he charged the district for personal travel and another involving personal parking expenses.

"I can tell you I would never deliberately do that," Levine explains. "Why would I? I was making a lot of money... I'll happily either dispute it or pay for it. This is a good thing from my perspective. It shows we have a control system that works. It's embarrassing. I'm a human being, so I probably made a mistake."

He says there has been no overture made by the district that he return any money, including the $35,000. He said that at least one of the improper expense payments involved his district-issued credit card, which he said he only recently learned had a whopping credit limit of $1 million.

"I didn't even know about the $1 million limit at the time," he said. "That's something that should be changed."

Levine, who was head of Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration before Gov. Bush sent him to take over the district, says that he intended to buy a house and move his family into the area but that the high cost of housing, plus the fact that property values were in decline with no sign of bottoming, kept him from ever doing it.

The fact that his daughter was in high school at the time and his mother-in-law was suffering from cancer also made it more difficult, he says.

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