A tipster claiming knowledge of the North Broward Hospital District's investigation of Commissioner Joseph Cobo recently suggested Juice take a closer look at one of the most damning passages in the report: that Cobo allegedly used his power as a commissioner to do favors for a prospective client of his private consulting business, Dr. Dimitrios Lintzeris, then pressured the physician to hire Cobo the consultant or else make an enemy of Cobo the commissioner.
You can read the gory details of that aspect of the investigation here. The report, written by former assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Goldberg, describes what sounds an awful lot like extortion.
In his interview with Goldberg, Cobo denied seeking private work with Lintzeris.
The tipster claimed that Lintzeris had found inaccuracies in the account that Goldberg offered on his behalf. Cobo's supporters have maligned Goldberg's report as being influenced by political motives. But they have offered little hard evidence -- at least until the Lintzeris episode was called into question.
So I phoned Lintzeris' office. The staff member who answered told me all Cobo-related questions should go to Lintzeris' attorney, Max Adams. Just as well. Adams joined Lintzeris for the meeting with Goldberg and could speak firsthand to the accuracy of the investigator's account.
Looks like the tipster was wrong. Adams not only reiterated details offered by his client during that meeting but he let rip with his own editorial about the professional conduct (or lack thereof) by the commissioner / consultant.
As a young physician looking to establish a practice in the region, Adams says Lizteris simply found Cobo's name in a directory of consultants and contacted the firm without even knowing Cobo was a commissioner. But since Lizteris did not hire Cobo as a consultant, Adams says the doctor had no reason to believe Cobo would use that initial conversation as a basis for doing consulting on his behalf, then circle back six months later to ask Lintzeris for his business.
"Maybe this guy was pulling strings for him, but [Lintzeris] had no clue," says Adams. "And then all of a sudden, [Cobo] calls to say, 'Look what I did for you.' " He says his client expressed astonishment that Cobo may have played a role in Lizteris' good fortune with the hospital district.
Adams recalls then speaking to a very anxious Linteris: "He called me up and said, 'Am I obligated to do this?' " Adams recalls. "I said, 'Absolutely not.' "
Lintzeris took his attorney's advice, but Adams says the doctor has been looking over his shoulder ever since.
"Cobo likes to get in there and take control of these guys' practices," says Adams. "He treats them like his little robots. If you don't do business with him, then Cobo kind of muscles these guys out."
Of course, Adams provides accounting and financial planning to physicians, services similar to those offered by Cobo the consultant. He's a competitor, in essence. The difference being that Adams doesn't also hold a powerful office with the county's giant public health-care provider. Adams is convinced that Cobo uses the public role to help the private one: "It's outright extortion," he says.
That explosive word doesn't appear in Goldberg's account, though it certainly springs to mind while reading the section dealing with Lintzeris.
Adams wonders how many Broward physicians found themselves in the very same position as Lintzeris only to go the other route: deciding that they'd rather pay Cobo than deal with whatever misfortune may come their way if they did not.
"The guy has a very large practice," Adams says of Cobo. "I'm absolutely sure that there are many guys who have been influenced by this guy's position."
On May 27, Cobo's six colleagues on the commission all voted to send the report of his alleged ethical transgressions to Gov. Charlie Crist, who appointed Cobo to the board in 2007. The governor's press secretary told Juice that staff would review the report, then decide whether it warranted being sent to the Florida Commission on Ethics.