Broward News

Choose Your Own Adventure, Broward Health Edition: The Mystery of Rio Vista

Around this time one year ago, Dr. Reynald Pouliot was trying to convince his landlord not to increase the rent. That landlord was the regional health care system, Broward Health. And the lease was for a timeshare office building adjacent to Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale. The increase came after Sonal Patel, Broward Health's real estate manager, had finished analyzing Broward Health leases to ensure that they all reflected the property's fair market value, as is required. Based on an independent appraisal that factored into fair market value, Pouliot's Rio Vista OB/GYN Associates was paying Broward Health only about a third of what the property's lease was worth.

Patel, having contacted Pouliot to inform him that rent would triple, discovered that the doctor had an ace in the hole: Broward Health Commissioner Joseph Cobo, whose private firm, Florida Medical Management Consultants, counted Pouliot as one of its clients. What's more, Cobo is the past president of Rio Visto and in that capacity had negotiated a modification of the lease terms in 1996.

Of course, Cobo was not a Broward Health commissioner in 1996. But he was in May 2008, as the battle over the lease was brewing. Which brings us to the crossroads in our adventure: If you're Cobo and Pouliot has contacted your firm about Broward Health's attempt to raise the rent, do you...

  1. ...use your position as commissioner to go to bat for Pouliot and talk Broward Health out of ditching the rent increase? If so, start reading from the top after the jump.
  2. ...reason that technically, Pouliot's a client of your consulting company, and so as long as some FMMC staffer other than you deals with Broward Health on Pouliot's behalf, it's ethical? So you give the task to one of your employees. If you choose this adventure, start reading from the second paragraph after the jump.
  3. ...explain to Pouliot that as commissioner, your ethical duty is to keep distance between private work from your public work, and for this reason, neither you nor any of your employees will be able to help him? If you choose this adventure, start reading from the last paragraph after the jump.

What a cynical observer of county politics you are, Adventure 1 chooser! (You must have read the first and second editions of the Juice series on Cobo.) No, for Cobo to intercede directly in the negotiation would have been a clear-cut breach of state ethics laws. You readers wouldn't last two years in Broward politics, where one must have an appreciation for the subtleties of conflicting interests.

If you chose Adventure 2, then you have the same judgment as the real-life Cobo, which means you inhabit a very murky legal land. According to the investigation by former U.S. Attorney Martin Goldberg, the managing partner of FMMC, Mayra Meilan, came to Pouliot's aid, calculating the rate of a renewed lease that reflected only a modest 4 percent rent increase. She used the consumer price index that Pouliot maintained was the standard for calculating the new rate. Pouliot then faxed that FMMC document to Broward Health.

In July 2008, Meilan faxed documents to Sentinel Property Management, a Broward Health contractor, seeking to confirm that the rent would not been raised for the lease that renewed that month. Only according to Goldberg's investigation, Meilan sent this fax as a representative of Pouliot's company, Rio Vista. The message contained no mention of her employer, FMMC.

Cobo and Meilan told investigators that Cobo did not know that Meilan had taken a role in the lease negotiations. That's a bit hard to believe not just because it's a convenient explanation but because it seems likely that Pouliot would have contacted his company's past president directly, giving Cobo the chance to ward him off. And even if Cobo really did not know of Meilan's involvement, he should have known, or he should have schooled his employees in the ethical dangers of using his company to help clients in dealings with Broward Health. The question of what Cobo knew is "unresolved," Goldberg found, but still the involvement of his FMMC employee, Meilan, could be a violation of the "non-interference provision" of the corporation's charter.

And that is why those of you who chose Adventure 3 chose wisest. Had Cobo made it clear to Pouliot and to all his employees to steer clear of clients seeking the firm's help with Broward Health, then he'd have a lot less stress in his life right now. And this story would be more likely to end happily.