July 26, 2013

Officials unravel Desai's downfall: extravagent spending, possible crimes

From @TBTimes

Six months after Universal Health Care Group declared bankruptcy, authorities are piecing together how extravagant spending and possible criminal conduct led to the demise of the once-thriving Medicare insurer.

A bankruptcy trustee alleges that Dr. Akshay "Doc" Desai, founder of the St. Petersburg company, and two of his top lieutenants took kickbacks from vendors seeking to do business with Universal.

A major bank alleges Desai might have had an insider stake in an Indian outsourcing company that collected millions of dollars from a Universal affiliate.

And the court official charged with liquidating Universal's assets and paying creditors has hired a top Miami law firm for a specific mission: to coordinate with federal prosecutors "in connection with any criminal related matters."

Desai and at least two of his former executives have hired well-known criminal defense attorneys, who insist their clients have done nothing wrong.

But interviews and recently filed court records show that even as Universal spiraled toward collapse, its leaders lived large at company expense. Desai and his wife, Seema, enjoyed weekends at a sumptuous corporate condo decorated with at least $115,000 in furnishings, including original artwork. Top executives drove luxury BMWs and joined dozens of other employees on a company-paid Mediterranean cruise. At the time, Medicare officials derided Universal for having among the worst customer service in the country with frequent complaints from members denied services and health care providers denied timely reimbursement. Story here. 

 

 

July 25, 2013

July 18, 2013

Republicans now own 'Empty Chair Charlie' website

For weeks, Florida Republicans have gleefully tweaked former Gov. Charlie Crist and his record with a daily "This Day in CRIST-ory" feature that points out the flip-flops and policy shifts in the Republican-turned-Democrat's record.

The GOP took its strategy a step further Thursday, claiming ownership of the dormant site www.emptychaircharlie.com, which the Florida Democratic Party created in 2008 as a vehicle to criticize Crist for what Democrats then saw as his inattention to his responsibilities as governor. 

In a release, RPOF said: "The site's sole purpose will be to archive and post previous Florida Democratic Party press releases and other materials attacking Crist's tenure as governor and his open campaign to be John McCain's vice president."

In launching the site in 2008, then-Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman sent an email to party activists, saying the site would be "dedicated to holding Crist accountable for his blatant absence during the state's most dire economic times in 16 years." 

The "empty chair" strategy was actually created by Crist's team in the 2006 governor's race, when Crist effectively criticized his Democratic opponent, Jim Davis, for missing votes while in Congress.   

July 09, 2013

Movers & Shakers

Governor's appointments

Aventura City Commissioner Luz Weinberg, director of communications for Bouygues Construction, has been appointed to the Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority.

She is also the vice president of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and a member of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Broward Sheriff Scott J. Israel  has been reappointed to the Florida Violent Crime and Drug Control Council.'Great Floridians'

The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

'Great Floridians'

Betty Sembler and the late Ruth Springer Wedgworth were honored as Great Floridians during a reception Monday at the Governor’s Mansion.

Sembler was one of the 10 founding members of Straight, Inc. a nonprofit drug treatment program,  and was the founder and president of Save Our Society From Drugs (S.O.S.) and the Drug Free America Foundation, Inc. During three decades of activism, she also served as a member of the Governor's Drug Policy Task Force in Florida.

Springer Wedgworth built a small family farm in Palm Beach County into one of the state's most prominent agribusinesses and she was named a Woman of the Year in Florida Agriculture. Her son, George Wedgworth, accepted the award on her behalf.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

June 11, 2013

GOP targets Democrats with robo calls urging them to 'free Nan Rich'

Putting its money where its mouth is, the Republican Party of Florida on Tuesday launched a robo-call campaign aimed at loyal Democrats urging them to "free Nan Rich" and let the underdog candidate for governor speak at the party’s annual fundraising dinner this weekend.

“Hi. I’m calling on behalf of the Republican Party of Florida,’’ the recorded female voice says in telephone calls targeting 13,000 Democrats in Miami, Palm Beach and Fort Myers. The phone campaign is part of an aggressive GOP media pitch aimed at exploiting the rift that rose when Rich was denied a speaking spot at the event.

“While our parties may not agree on most issues, we do agree when it comes to honoring those in our parties who represent its core values,’’ the recorded voice continues. “But Florida Democratic Chair Allison Tant is refusing to let Nan Rich speak for five minutes at this Saturday’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner.” Download RPOF_06112013_NanRich (1)

Rich, a former state senator, was left off the roster of the dinner to be held at the Westin Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood even though she has been the only Democrat actively campaigning to defeat Gov. Rick Scott in 2014.

Tant said Rich’s rejection was not a snub but an attempt to streamline and energize a program that has traditionally gone on for hours. Meanwhile, the high profile attention from Repupblican Party Chairman Lenny Curry has not suppressed interest but increased it, she said, noting that the party is sold 40 more tables than last year and is ahead of its fundraising goal.

“I hope it costs them some money,’’ Tant said with a laugh. “Maybe I ought to write Lenny a thank you note.”

RPOF’s focus on the issue – in an email to party stalwarts, the robo calls and press releases – has also helped draw attention to Rich’s campaign which, until now, had been dwarfed by a focus on former Republican governor turned Democrat, Charlie Crist, and former Chief Financial Officer and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink.

“They are trying to be my best friend,’’ Rich said Tuesday, adding that the RPOF attention and the party rejection “is backfiring on everybody.

“I’ve received two to three weeks of incredible media attention I wasn’t able to get before and people recognize that I’m a legitimate candidate for governor,’’ she told the Herald/Times.

Tant said she was also “thrilled that Nan’s gotten some buzz." 

The party program, which last year included six key speeches, is designed to be kept to 90 minutes, said Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp.

Speakers will include brief remarks from Tant, DNC Chairwoman Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Pembroke Pines, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and a keynote speech from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the rising star who gave a well-received speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and will help the party highlight its outreach to Hispanics.

Rich, a former Senate Democratic leader, agrees there is a need to shorten the speechifying. "I have sat there for hour after hour and there have been too many speakers,'' she said. But she is not persuaded they couldn’t make room for a five-minute speech from the only Democrat who has been campaigning to unseat Scott.

“We have a different view what the purpose of the Jefferson-Jackson dinner is,’’ she told the Herald Times. “I believe I’ve earned the right to speak and it is totally appropriate for me to speak. The truth is people all over the state are expressing that.”

Curry clearly sees the advantage in exploiting the disagreement. In the robo-call to Democrats, the recorded voice quotes Democratic activists and a newspaper columnist and urges people to call the Democratic Party.

"To make your voice heard, call the Florida Democrats at 850-222-3411 Tell them to free Nan Rich and let her speak,’’ the caller says.

Here’s the RPOF script:

“Hi. I’m calling on behalf of the Republican Party of Florida.

"While our parties may not agree on most issues, we do agree when it comes to honoring those in our parties who represent its core values. But Florida Democratic Chair Allison Tant is refusing to let Nan Rich speak for five minutes at this Saturday’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner.

"Maggie Davidson, state Democratic committeewoman from Broward, told the Sun-Sentinel that “Nan Rich should be allowed to speak. She’s a high-level Democrat and she should be highlighted.”

"The Sun-Sentinel’s Gary Stein, wrote that “Jefferson and Jackson themselves would be all in favor of letting Nan Rich speak.”

"To make your voice heard, call the Florida Democrats at 850-222-3411 Tell them to free Nan Rich and let her speak."

June 10, 2013

Movers & Shakers

Former Romney spokesman new press secretary for the Republican Party of Florida

 Susan Hepworth, who served as director of the national traveling press for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign, is the new press secretary and deputy communications director for the Republican Party of Florida.

The Kansas City native traveled full time with former Gov. Romney and the press corp during his race for president.

During the 2010 election cycle, she directed the day-to-day political operations at the RNC. Prior to that she was at Majority Strategies, a mail firm in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Hepworth began her political career in 2007 in Iowa on Romney’s first presidential bid right after graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism.

“I graduated on a Sunday, drove to Des Moines on Monday and I started working on the campaign on Tuesday,” said Hepworth, who started her new job June 7. “And that’s been my life.”

Winsor new state solicitor general

Allen Winsor succeeds Timothy Osterhaus as Florida’s solicitor general,  the state government’s top appellate lawyer. Osterhaus was appointed to the 1st District Court of Appeal May 20th.

Winsor, 36,  has been the principal deputy solicitor general since January. Prior to that, he was a member of the Tallahassee office of GrayRobinson, most recently as a shareholder. He’s a 2002 graduate of the University Of Florida College Of Law, where he was editor-in-chief of the Florida Law Review.

The Florida solicitor general represents the state throughout Florida's appellate courts and in the U.S. Supreme Court. The solicitor general also serves as the Richard W. Ervin Eminent Scholar Chair and a visiting professor of law at Florida State University College of Law.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

May 30, 2013

RPOF chief launches "FreeNanRich" Twitter campaign to mock Dems for dissing one of its own

@MarcACaputo

 

Way to go, Florida Democratic Party, you've allowed the Republican Party of Florida to mock you for appearing to mistreat one of your own, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich.

 

Rich wants to speak at the Democrats Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. The FDP said no. It wants a streamlined program. So only three people can speak.

 

RIch said she just wants five minutes to speak. The answer was still no. More background is here.

 

RPOF chairman Lenny Curry is loving every minute. Here's a message he sent out:

 

 

Continue reading "RPOF chief launches "FreeNanRich" Twitter campaign to mock Dems for dissing one of its own" »

April 15, 2013

The rise and fall of GOP money man and HMO founder, Akshay Desai

From the Tampa Bay Times:

In August, Universal Health Care Group was crumbling. Regulators circled. Bankruptcy loomed.

Still, founder and CEO Akshay Desai didn't publicly hint at any problems.

"As a businessman, I know all too well what it takes to make it in the private sector," he bragged at the time.

It was vintage Desai — supremely confident, selective with the facts. The 55-year-old son of Indian educators built Universal on smarts and ambition. He was charming when he needed to be, domineering when he wanted. One day he was persuading investors to part with tens of millions of dollars, the next he was berating employees to tears.

He rose high into the Republican fundraising ranks, dining with President George W. Bush at his Texas ranch. Eventually he realized his dream: a $1.5 billion health care company, with more than 140,000 members in 23 states.

But his success was largely an illusion. Story here.

April 05, 2013

Big staff changes at RPOF: Grissom leaves top post for FL Chamber, regional roster announced

@MarcACaputo

Big changes at the Republican Party of Florida. Here's the press release:

Tallahassee -- Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry today announced key staff departures and arrivals.

After leading the Republican Party of Florida since October 2011, Mike Grissom, the party's Executive Director will become Senior Director of Political Affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. During his tenure as Executive Director, Grissom was instrumental in helping Curry continue reforms at the RPOF after the untimely passing of Chairman Dave Bitner.

"Mike Grissom is not only my friend, but he is one of Florida's most respected political campaign operatives," said Curry. "Through triumphs and challenges, Mike has been a steady leader for our party, we are sorry to see him go. The Florida Chamber has made an excellent choice, and I know he will be an invaluable asset to their mission of creating economic growth and opportunity for Florida."

Continue reading "Big staff changes at RPOF: Grissom leaves top post for FL Chamber, regional roster announced" »

March 27, 2013

Jim Greer sentenced to 18 months in prison

Jim Greer, hand shaker, party thrower, power seeker, former head of the Republican Party of Florida, was sentenced in Orlando on Wednesday to 18 months in state prison.

Greer, 50 and a father of five, last month pleaded guilty to money laundering and theft charges, admitting he had created a company called Victory Strategies to siphon to himself and an associate some $200,000 of party donations.

Wednesday's sentencing in Courtroom 6B at the Orange County Courthouse marked at least the legal end of a years-long saga that was unflattering for state Republicans but could’ve been worse.

Follow the story here.