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
Florida in particular has had trouble enforcing drug laws thanks to the DOH's decimation under Rick Scott. Four current and former investigators interviewed by New Times, three of whom declined to be named for fear of reprisal, detailed the breakdown in the bureau over the past two years.
First, in early 2012, an edict came down from Tallahassee: Investigators, who on average had more than 60 pending complaints on their desks, were ordered to "purge" cases. Those more than a year old were automatically closed; most newer cases were sent to Tallahassee, where DOH lawyers gave them a cursory look and declared them "legally insufficient."
The next blow came in June 2012. That's when investigators learned they'd no longer be able to pick up unmarked cars at will, which had been the previous policy. They'd have to fill out onerous paperwork and red tape to schedule the cars ahead of time.
"The problem is this isn't an 8-to-5 desk job where you can plan everything out," one current investigator says. "You never know when a tip comes in and you need to run out to stake out an illegal pharmacy or doctor's office. The result was, it became much, much harder to mount investigations."
In March, the DOH closed its Hollywood office, where all the unlicensed activity investigators for the area had been based. They were scattered to auxiliary offices. Finally, in June, the investigators were told they'd no longer have access to the statewide database that tracks prescriptions. Supervisors in Tallahassee cited unspecified "misuse" by an investigator, sources say.
"That was a key tool for us because we could see immediately if someone was prescribing 10,000 oxy pills in one month," one current investigator says. "Suddenly, we're frozen out."
Even worse was the active interference. Christopher Knox, a retired cop who joined the department as an investigator in 2010, ran into similar resistance. He found evidence a Miami pharmacy was illegally selling painkillers and then was ordered by his superiors not to take that evidence to the DOH's prosecutors.
"They actually ordered me not to assist the police in going after someone who was breaking the law," says Knox, who was fired this past March and has filed a whistleblower complaint. "That's when I realized that I couldn't work in this organization any longer."
In a statement sent to New Times, DOH defended its policies and says it's serious about going after unlicensed doctors. Investigators can still get unlicensed cars when they need them, DOH says, and protecting their safety while working cases is "of utmost importance."
"The Department has dedicated more resources to combating the unlicensed practice of a health care profession and, for the first time, has established a statewide coordinator in Tallahassee," the statement reads.
That attitude certainly aided Tony Bosch and his father, Dr. Pedro Bosch. They were first investigated by the department in 2009, when ESPN reported they were suspected as the source of PEDs that led Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez to fail a test, says a DOH source with intimate knowledge of the case. But no action was taken. Asked about that case, Ashley Carr, a department spokeswoman, says that "due to confidentiality constraints... we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a complaint." (Complaints against actual doctors like Pedro Bosch are public only if sustained.)
In 2011, the DOH opened a probe into Tony Bosch based on an anonymous complaint that he was practicing medicine without a license at his Gables clinic, then called BioKem. An investigator staked out the place and briefly interviewed Bosch's partner, Carlos Acevedo, who assured them Bosch was a "marketing" expert working on "referrals," according to state records. The investigator closed the case without interviewing Bosch or talking to any clients.
Worst of all, though, is what happened after New Times' January investigation into Bosch's clinic, "The Steroid Source," was published. DOH investigator Jerome Hill took up the case, hoping to charge Bosch with practicing medicine without a license — a felony that carries a minimum one-year prison term in Florida. Hill interviewed three patients, including Sharon Cohen, the domestic violence victim. All signed sworn affidavits that Bosch had presented himself as a licensed doctor.
Two weeks after interviewing Cohen, though, Hill got a call from Tallahassee: Tony Bosch would be sent a cease-and-desist letter and fined $5,000 (which was later reduced to $3,000). The case would be closed. Hill was flabbergasted. In an email sent to his boss, he warned that without more investigation, "the report will be sent up without the quality it requires." Even worse, DOH administrators then gave Miami-Dade prosecutors just a one-page letter with only a copy of Bosch's citation rather than Hill's full report.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle replied that there wasn't enough evidence to press charges. When WSVN-TV's Carmel Cafiero later showed Rundle's spokesman, Ed Griffith, Hill's full report, Griffith admitted he found it "very surprising" that the DOH had never provided it to prosecutors.
Yusem and Charles, the pair who missed Alisa Jaffe's thyroid tumor at Boca Raton's Maxim Life, also benefited from the DOH's lax enforcement. After Palm Beach Sheriff's deputies raided the office and confiscated vials of steroids and HGH, Yusem was charged with two felony counts of practicing medicine without a license. Charles was hit with two misdemeanors for enabling him.