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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rise & fall of Fla GOP Finance Chair and the bundlers who lost a mint



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.

Last month, FBI agents raided the company. Regulators have accused Universal's leadership of fraud, embezzlement and diversion of funds, though they have not accused any individual of a crime.

Desai, through his Miami attorney, told the Times that his company "always acted in an ethical and legal fashion."

Interviews with dozens of employees and investors and a review of thousands of records reveal that Universal was in trouble almost from the start. And Desai may only have himself to blame.

He drove away top executives. He skirted rules. He declared that Universal members who asked for electric wheelchairs could use walkers instead. And it was Desai who pumped millions of dollars into six-figure BMWs, swank offices and executive bonuses as the company spiraled downward.

Full story here

[Last modified: Saturday, April 13, 2013 10:21pm]


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