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Criminal Investigation Launched Against Another Hospital Commissioner

Broward Health Commissioner Mike Fernandez is being investigated by the Broward State Attorney's Office for criminal corruption. The investigation was launched after Juice reported potential conflicts of interest between Fernandez's public office and his private work as a salesman for SonoSite, an ultrasound manufacturer that services the hospital district.

He is the second hospital commissioner in nine months to catch the attention of the local prosecutor's office, which continues to investigate Joseph Cobo for possible conflicts between his board position and his private physician consulting firm.

Gov. Charlie Crist's office has been made aware of the recent ethical troubles of its two past appointments to the hospital board. Yet three weeks ago, Crist removed two commissioners who had been in favor of ethical reform -- Robert Bernstein and Dan Gordon -- while keeping both Cobo and Fernandez in their powerful positions.

Last month the hospital district produced a list of its SonoSite purchases that, at first blush, appeared suspicious. Namely, the district records showed that it had ordered SonoSite equipment on dates when that equipment didn't even exist. But after Juice posted about those records, the district contacted us to say that the records were thrown off by a computer glitch.

Even if that's the case, questions remain about whether the district's SonoSite purchases followed proper procedure. For instance, purchases of over $50,000 by the district require more disclosure and often a bidding process. So one purchase in January 2008 for a piece of SonoSite equipment that cost $49,999 -- a dollar below that threshold -- raises an eyebrow.

Fernandez has never misled anyone about his role with SonoSite, but he's always maintained that he deals only with the ultrasound manufacturer's business in Latin America and that he has no business dealings with Broward Health.

The most perilous legal question for Fernandez may not even involve his private work. Last April, he allegedly pulled the plug on the internal investigation into Cobo's conduct. (Read that sordid tale here.) It's not clear whether the prosecutor's office is considering an obstruction charge.

Fernandez was not immediately available for comment. If we hear back from him or from the district, we'll update this post.

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Thomas Francis

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