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Pending Criminal Investigation? Your Money's Still Good at Crist Fundraiser!

On the right, that's a portion of the fundraiser flier being circulated by West Broward land baron Ron Bergeron, who's hosting an event for his favorite U.S. Senate candidate, Charlie Crist. (Click to enlarge.) I've highlighted the name of one headlining contributor, Joseph Cobo, the Broward Health commissioner currently under criminal investigation based on allegations he exploited his public office in a way that profited his private medical consulting firm.

That's right. The same Senate candidate who last week convinced the Florida Supreme Court to convene a special grand jury based on reports of corruption in Broward County is willing to party with and take money from a target of a Broward corruption investigation. For just $4,800, Cobo and his wife can attend the "VIP reception." What a deal!

For those needing a refresher on Cobo's history at the public hospital district, here's a post from August about how he allegedly called recent ethics rules a "joke" and demanded that they be stricken from the hospital charter. Here's one from back in May, when, according to an internal investigator's findings, a Broward Health physician feared that Cobo was using his position as commissioner to extort private business. And finally, here's an instance where Cobo is alleged to have intervened as a commissioner to negotiate a deal between the district and a client of his private consulting firm.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

It's astonishing that Crist's office has not asked Cobo to step down from his role on the hospital board. Back in July, we guessed that Crist's office could "milk the clock" on the Cobo scandal, in hopes that ethical issues wouldn't be a big part of the campaign. But that was before two towering corruption scandals struck Broward County -- first, the criminal case against county officials, then the $1.2 billion criminal fraud case against leading Crist fundraiser Scott Rothstein.

Hell, if Rothstein hadn't finally been booked on federal fraud charges last week, maybe he'd have gotten an invite too. He'd have been mighty comfortable there -- Rothstein's pal from the charity fundraiser circuit, Dan Marino, is the celebrity guest.

Clearly, Crist and his people show great forbearance toward friends who may come with ethical conflicts. It's worth sharing a detail I've now heard from multiple sources: that Gov. Jeb Bush's administration rejected Cobo's bid to be a commissioner based on fears Cobo would be unable to keep a wall between that private medical consulting business and his public role as commissioner. Crist, who appointed Cobo in September 2007, had no such misgivings.

Note: I'm presuming Crist is going to be in attendance -- would anyone pay $4,800 for a VIP reception that did not include the Big Guy? But the person whose contact info is on the flier couldn't confirm that detail.

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Thomas Francis

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