Bob Butterworth's Mental-Health Group Accused of Manipulating DCF Bid Process

Bob Butterworth is something of an avuncular elder statesman of Florida politics, brought in to mend fences and rout corruption when something's amiss. The former attorney general and Broward sheriff served a stint as Sunrise mayor after that city was plagued by scandal in the '80s; after the head of a Miami Beach health center stole $7 million, the center brought in Butterworth "to ensure this kind of betrayal of trust can never happen again." More recently, Debbie Wasserman Schultz picked him to moderate a raucous discussion between opponents and supporters of the ICE jail in Southwest Ranches.

But now Butterworth, known in some circles as "the ethics enema," has been dodging scrutiny of his own. The Broward Bulldog reports that an appeals court has just thrown out allegations that Butterworth's mental-health nonprofit got an unfair leg up from the Department of Children and Families, which he used to run.

In fact, he's got a history of using his position to help out his friends... something New Times explored a few years ago.

When Butterworth was serving as dean at St. Thomas University's College of Law, he brought in friend Steve Clark, who was Arkansas attorney general alongside Gov. Bill Clinton until he was convicted of felony theft for using a state-issued credit card to pay for lavish meals and expensive cognac. 

Butterworth gave Clark, who had been pardoned by subsequent Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a position teaching none other than criminal law. "Steve had a problem in his life a number of years ago, and he dealt with it. He's dealing with it in a wonderful way, by giving back to the community. He's a great inspiration. He's open about the problem he's overcome," said Butterworth.

When a student confessed to a conviction for doing something similar -- committing credit card fraud -- she was expelled within days. Butterworth was also accused by a disgruntled former student of leading the school to intentionally accept students it knew would fail, letting them drop away after a year or two of tuition. He denied the accusation.

Butterworth, who is a private attorney, leads a nonprofit mental-health group, the Broward Behavioral Health Coalition. That group and another nonprofit, the Partnership for Community Health, were vying for a bid to provide area mental-health services funded by the state Department of Children and Families, where Butterworth was secretary from 2006 to 2008.

The partnership, which lost the bid, claimed in a 22-page bid protest that Butterworth's group, BBHC, submitted a bid proposal that was deemed inadequate by state reviewers. Rather than throw the bid out, however, DCF used a loophole. Dan Christensen explains:

Instead, because there was only a single responsive reply, DCF was allowed to employ a provision in state procurement law that Parker said allowed it to bypass the sealed bid process...

With the idea of sealed bids scrapped, and the previous scoring out the window, DCF began open negotiations with both nonprofits last winter.

Allegedly, BBHC was allowed to see the Partnership's bid and move to underbid at the last second. The complaint also alleges that BBHC is serving as a front for its "partner" organization, the for-profit Concordia. Butterworth told Michael Mayo in June that Concordia had been paying him as a lobbyist. For-profit groups aren't allowed to bid to provide such services.

An appeals court in Tallahassee threw the case out last week after the challenger failed to post a required "protest bond."

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph