Shortly before Laura Seidman was pressured to resign as general counsel of Broward County's public hospital district last year, she expressed concerns that three of the district's commissioners were "using their public offices and powers improperly and for their own purposes." She named Commissioners Rebecca Stoll and Maureen Jaeger, both of whom have been untouched by the scandal involving Commissioner Joseph Cobo. Until now, at least.
Cobo, currently under investigation by the Broward State Attorney's Office for possible criminal charges, is the third commissioner named in Seidman's memo.
Dated April 2, 2008, the memo containing those allegations was sent by Seidman to Lance Bradley, the health care district's compliance director. It was among the records excavated by former federal prosecutor Martin Goldberg in his recent investigation into reports of ethics violations by Cobo.
Seidman claims that in October 2007, Commissioner Stoll recommended that the district's sponsorship committee give $10,000 to Museum of Science and Discovery in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Then-CEO Alan Levine issued the check, only to learn (according to Seidman's letter) that "obtaining such a large donation benefited (Stoll's) status as a 'benefactor' of the museum."
The more generous a donor is to the museum, the more privileges they enjoy as a member -- "behind-the-scenes tours, special presentations, exclusive social events and family gatherings," according to the museum's web site. The page that explains those perks has a photo gallery of VIP events, and the top photo (right) shows Stoll posing with her young son. A photo at the very bottom shows Stoll posing with other donors at a fundraiser she hosted at her home.
Florida Statutes say a public officer cannot "accept any compensation, payment, or thing of value" if it was given to "influence a vote or other action in which the officer... was expected to participate in his or her official capacity." Which begs the question of whether Stoll really did have a hand in that donation and if so whether she gained status at the museum as a result. And then whether that status qualifies as a "thing of value" that she was ethically bound to refuse.
Stoll was vacationing in Colorado last week when I tried reaching her, but her husband Steve Stoll responded by email, saying that Seidman's allegations are "fiction." He denied that his wife played a role in any $10,000 donation to the Museum of Science and Discovery. Rather, he said that "Rebecca donated her own personal funds to the museum prior to her appointment and continues to do so."
In the letter, Seidman claims that Stoll and Levine clashed over the $10,000 donation and that Stoll then launched a campaign to oust Levine, for which Seidman claims she was recruited.
"Commmissioner Stoll tried to involve me in her vendetta agains Mr. Levine by calling me to her office where she and her husband, lawyer Steve Stoll, threatened me with a bar complaint and malpractice claim, unless I lied to the other commissioners about Alan Levine misrepresenting facts to the board."That last phrase is the very same one that was quoted coming from Stoll when in January 2008, Levine resigned as CEO. (On behalf of other district officials, Vice President of Corporate Communications/Marketing Sara Howley, declined to discuss Stoll's possible involvement in the district's sponsorship of the museum exhibit, as the subject came up in documents related to the pending investigation of Cobo.)
Seidman wrote the letter, it appears, to make a record of a meeting she had with Bradley that same day. It's apparent she was anxious about having made powerful enemies of the Stolls and feared for her job. Seidman writes:
"They wanted to get rid of Alan Levine for the same reason they now want to get rid of me: They couldn't control him and he wouldn't shut his eyes to the misuse and abuse of her office by Commissioner Stoll."Three weeks after writing the letter, Seidman resigned. She was paid her $230,000 salary for the next year, however.
Steve Stoll did not address a question about whether he or his wife recruited Seidman's help in disposing of Levine.
A few months after Seidman's departure, in August 2008, there appeared an item on the board's agenda, authorizing the district to pay the same Museum of Science and Discovery $2 million over the following 15 years for an exhibition that promoted health. Discussion of that item is recorded in the meeting minutes, with Commissioner Dan Gordon questioning "whether Broward Health should be in the business to support a museum. He said that being a hospital district, the monies generated, some of which are through taxes, should not be used in this manner."
Gordon's was the only dissenting vote. Stoll seconded the motion that called for the sponsorship. The meeting minutes contain no disclosure of a conflict of interest on her part.
More from the Seidman letter later, including the alleged misconduct by Commissioner Jaeger, as well as Commissioner Cobo's alleged attempt to repeal the very same ethics guidelines that he would later be accused of violating.
In addition, I've sent the Stolls another note seeking clarification on her August 2008 vote, as well as answers to other leftover questions. I hope to hear back soon.