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R.I.P., Diogee

Save That Dog — Kill Him!

Lawrence Meaney wanted his dog, Diogee, to die a natural death, and after 16 years (a biblical 112 in canine years) the border-collie mix was already beginning his inexorable drift toward doggy heaven. In recent years, Diogee's wagging tail and springy step had been slowed to a crawl by arthritis, and he often slept 20 hours a day. But it was still a good life.

Man and dog spent last June 3 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, where Meaney was watching a Marlins game at the bar on the casino floor as Diogee dozed in the bed Meaney had made for him in his gray 2004 Toyota 4Runner. Just another lazy Saturday, Meaney says.

But wait. Can we throw some darkness into this balmy picture? The Seminole Police, whose scuffling, cowboy style of policing has resulted in some notoriously rough treatment of Hard Rock guests recently, were monitoring the parking garage. The cops spied Diogee in the truck, then started watching the clock. A subsequently produced police report claimed that three hours passed without a sign of Meaney. Meaney says it was 45 minutes.

"It wasn't like he was hanging from a noose," Meaney says. "He was on a cushion. There was bottled water, bandages, and ointment." Also, the windows were open, and the garage's third floor is shaded from the sun.

When Meaney got back to his truck, though, the cops told him he was under arrest for animal cruelty. As they tried to put cuffs on him, the police report says, Meaney tried to pull his hands out from behind his back and "continued to resist arrest." That was two felony charges. Would Meaney like to try for three?

Meaney tells it another way: As he was trying to explain how Diogee's medication made the dog lethargic, a Seminole cop "slammed my head against the car; then he twisted the cuffs on my wrists." A wound to his scalp from the incident required five stitches.

As if that weren't enough, Meaney says, the cop said to his partner, "Make sure you put down [in the police report] that he fell."

For Meaney, the crazy-making irony here is that the arrest, ostensibly executed in defense of Diogee, made it impossible for Meaney to care for his dog. As the police explained it, these were his options: Meaney could either pay a couple of thousand dollars for tests necessary for taking Diogee into custody (he didn't have the money) or he could agree to let the police put the dog to sleep.

With Meaney heading to a Fort Lauderdale jail cell (where he would spend five days), the choice got whittled down even further. Diogee was euthanized.

Meaney takes special exception to the portion of the police report that alleges he "did intentionally cause the unnecessary pain and suffering of the dog which resulted in the death of the dog." Nobody killed Diogee but the Seminole Police. And, oh yeah. Meaney, who is free now on a $2,500 bond, has to defend himself against two felony charges. No court date has been set.

Tailpipe is no Dog Whisperer, though he does have a little pooch of his own. But he knows a legitimate dog lover when he sees one. Meaney's fond description of his 16 years with Diogee makes him fit the profile.

Diogee's veterinarian, H.A. Brunz, wrote a letter that Meaney hopes will help keep him out of jail. "What happened to Diogee and Larry is an absolute atrocity, and there should be a thorough investigation," Brunz writes. "Even if Diogee had only a few days to live, it is not anyone's responsibility to put an animal to death under these circumstances except for the owner of that pet, end of story."

Finally, Tailpipe wonders: If your dog were in some sort of distress, would you rather see it in the hands of the Seminole Police or Lawrence Meaney?

Rudy in Drag

So you're a Republican and you're gay. Can Tailpipe say it sounds a little like being a vegan in a wolf pack? Sure, you believe in the venerable old ideas about keeping free enterprise unencumbered and shrinking the size of government. But most of your fellow travelers not only don't approve of your lifestyle but they've run entire campaigns based almost exclusively on vilifying... you.

Still, there's one candidate now in the mix who could actually reach out and resolve those simmering contradictions in your chest: Rudolph Giuliani. As mayor of New York, Giuliani backed same-sex civil unions and even went out in drag. Hell, after his most recent divorce, he crashed with friends who are a gay couple. He sure doesn't sound like a standard-issue bigot.

So some SoFla Republicans, in search of hopeful signs, recently turned out to meet a Giuliani representative at a meeting of a local chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans. Speaking of contradictions, the Log Cabinites are led by a straight lady: former Wilton Manors mayor, professional cook, and woman of grandmotherly warmth Sandy Steen. At her townhome, about a dozen well-heeled, older gay gentlemen spread out in the living room, snacking on homemade cookies and hors d'oeuvres that she'd whipped up. Steen introduced her guests to Phil Consuegra, field director for Guiliani's presidential campaign in Broward County.

Consuegra started with some of the hit singles from Giuliani's career: leadership on 9/11, law and order, "12 Commitments to America." Then he took questions.

Gene Bungy went straight to the gut: What about Giuliani's "don't ask, don't tell" position?

Consuegra cleared his throat. Ummm... he couldn't talk about that because he'd never talked to Giuliani about it.

Gay marriage, civil rights protections for gays, freedom of expression?

Sorry, guys, not on the table. But Consuegra did volunteer the opinion that Giuliani was the only candidate capable of beating Hillary Clinton, who threatens to "socialize everything under the sun."

Several guests asked about Giuliani's scandal-clouded personal life.

"Rudolph Giuliani isn't running as a perfect person," Consuegra said. "He's running as a human being." Somebody noted that, in the current arena of Republican debate, that sounded damned near like a ringing endorsement of gay rights. And so everybody went home happy.

More Ravioli, Please

At the Jubilee Center on Scott Street in Hollywood, organizers love the smell of ravioli in the morning. It smells like... victory.

Last month, Executive Director Tammy Morton faced the heroic task of filling an $8,500 hole in the center's budget. That would be a budgetary punch to the solar plexus.

Hollywood's Department of Finance had informed the agency that it would not be fulfilling the final two years of its contract with Jubilee Center, which provides food, clothing, and counseling to the region's homeless and working poor. The center depended on those funds to pay its rent and utility bills.

Was there a plan B?

"Do you see these hands?" Morton says. "I would have been writing grants."

That is, Morton would have been applying for grants from foundations. But the foundations, Morton says, have a way of asking an applying agency whether it has sought out their own city for funds. And as far as foundations are concerned, it's an ominous sign when the agency has been abandoned by its city.

The city blamed the state legislature for Jubilee's problems. Hollywood was getting socked with state cutbacks, leaving less for do-gooder programs like Jubilee, officials said. But then, you have to think that there were other forces at work here too. Let's be candid: Is there any room for Jubilee transients in the glossy condotopia that Mayor Mara Giulianti and her allies are creating in Hollywood?

In the end, Morton and her board of directors fought back. A letter-writing campaign combined with a trip to the Hollywood Commission finally did the trick. The city caved, renewing the $8,500 allocation. That would be for one more year, however, not the two years as spelled out in Jubilee's contract.

As other Hollywood residents have learned, it is not a city known for its generosity — unless you're developing an upscale condo. Next year? Tailpipe suggests that Morton keep those hands limber.

Print Me Some Money, Unc!

Now, here's some entertaining reading for a sleepless night: "Aberrant Billing in South Florida for Beneficiaries with HIV/AIDS," by that well-known literary whiz Health and Human Services' Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

But Tailpipe jests no more. In fact, the 40-page report includes a mystery that still has this battered cylinder scratching his rusty noggin: Of all the bills that Medicare/Medicaid received in 2005 for AIDS/HIV patients in the entire country, a whopping 72 percent came from Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties. Verrry strange — especially when you consider that only 8 percent of the nation's HIV/AIDS beneficiaries lived here in 2005. South Florida providers charged $2.5 billion to Medicare for HIV/AIDS treatments that year, which was more than twice the $978 million charged by the rest of the country combined.

What accounts for this disparity?

Apparently, it's driven by a money-making scheme that investigators now call the "infusion therapy scam." It goes like this: An average Joe applies for a Medicare provider number. There's no education requirement, and no medical background is needed, just a wallet big enough to carry away all the money you'll get. (Some of this is described in Deirdra Funcheon's New Times cover story "Rx for Plunder" from September 20).

Providers then open infusion clinics where AIDS patients ostensibly come to get medicine administered intravenously. The patient pays nothing for the service; Medicare pays the clinic directly. And the payments come fast and plentifully. Medicare pays automatically, direct-depositing funds into providers' accounts within 16 days. "Any criminal with a few hours on his hands can figure out what gets paid," says a health-care fraud expert with a law enforcement background, who declined to be named. Clinic owners naturally bill for services with the greatest profit margins. "You could be a multimillionaire in 30 days," the expert says.

By looking at billing patterns, the OIG saw instances where multiple clinics claimed to have given infusion treatments to the same patient on the same day. Sometimes, a clinic doled out cheap vitamins but billed for expensive drugs or a clinic billed for services on a day that it was supposedly closed. Sometimes patients got kickbacks for participating in one of the schemes (the going rate, inspectors say, is $150 a month, sometimes paid in gift cards for a grocery store). Often, there were no patients at all. Frequently, there wasn't even an actual physical clinic, the OIG says; though providers were required to have a brick-and-mortar space, inspectors would visit addresses only to find that providers were "phantom clinics" — rooms the size of broom closets with only a few chairs and a gumball machine.

The OIG report states that in combating fraud, the government and its contractors have "used multiple approaches but none has proven successful over time." Medicare has stopped paying for certain drugs with high profit margins, for example, but the bad providers simply switch over and start billing for a different drug. Medicare can revoke provider numbers, but it has to give the provider 30 days' notice — which is plenty of time for fraudulent providers to keep billing. And even if providers get their number revoked, they can apply for other ones. The report mentions one guy who had 19 numbers revoked — and just kept on billing on his other ten.

Well, Tailpipe is going to pack away that little printing press he was using to make $20 bills in the basement. Why risk a stiff counterfeiting bust when money is flowing in the Medicare racket faster than you can print it?

— As told to Edmund Newton

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