After beating Gov. Rick Scott in court, hospital appointee quits post

David Di Pietro resigned Thursday from his role as board chairman of tax-supported hospitals in Broward County.
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[South Florida Sun Sentinel]
David Di Pietro resigned Thursday from his role as board chairman of tax-supported hospitals in Broward County. . [South Florida Sun Sentinel]
Published April 14 2016
Updated April 14 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Three days after he defeated Gov. Rick Scott in a Florida courtroom, David Di Pietro resigned Thursday from an unpaid but powerful post as board chairman of tax-supported hospitals in Broward County.

In a letter to Scott, Di Pietro said that the North Broward Hospital District "is stifled with so much political interference that my continued membership is utterly futile."

"Your actions have made it obvious to me that exercising my independent fiduciary judgment as a board member is not consistent with your interests," Di Pietro told Scott.

Scott suspended Di Pietro as chairman of the board of what is known as Broward Health on March 18 for "malfeasance" after Scott's chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, accused him of interfering with her review of hospital district operations, including dozens of lucrative contracts.

Di Pietro sued Scott, and on Monday, Broward Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips ordered him reinstated, concluding that Scott's executive order of suspension was "devoid of any specific acts of malfeasance" by Di Pietro.

In response to Miguel's review, Di Pietro, a Republican, led an effort to hire a Democratic law firm, Berger Singerman, to represent board members, a decision that appeared to infuriate the governor's office.

The district, which has a $1.5 billion budget and 8,000 employees, operates under the name Broward Health.

Its former chief executive officer, Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, committed suicide in January at a time when the district was saddled with financial difficulties and a private eye he hired was seeking evidence of purchasing improprieties that are subject of an FBI investigation.

The district, run by seven patronage appointees of the governor, has long been a target of criticism for undue outside influence and favoritism in the awarding of multimillion dollar contracts for health care, legal work and other services.

Since last June, the district has paid nearly $3 million in fees to two of the state's largest law firms. Foley & Lardner received $1.7 million and Greenberg Traurig received $1.1 million, the district confirmed.

Di Pietro's resignation Thursday came two days after Scott appealed his reinstatement order to the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

Di Pietro referred questions to attorney Brian Silber, who said that the resignation had nothing to do with the possibility that Scott might prevail in an appeal.

Silber said Di Pietro quit because he achieved his goal of reinstatement. He accused Scott of plotting to privatize Broward's public hospitals, similar to the Columbia/HCA empire Scott built two decades ago.

"Knowing he was clean, when the governor suspended him, the insinuation was that he had done something wrong," Silber said. "It impugned his character and so David pushed back."

Scott's spokesman issued a statement that again suggested Di Pietro was hampering his review of the district.

"Gov. Scott cares about the taxpayers of Broward County and expects all appointees and employees to fully cooperate with any federal and state investigations," spokesman John Tupps said.

Another Scott appointee to the board, Maureen Canada of Lighthouse Point, called Di Pietro's resignation "very unfortunate."

"He served the system with honesty and integrity," she said. "He leaves a void that won't easily be filled."

Di Pietro, a 36-year-old lawyer and former state prosecutor, reaped the rewards of being an early Scott supporter in 2010.

Scott appointed him to the hospital board twice, in 2011 and 2013, and the governor appointed Di Pietro's wife, Nina Weatherly Di Pietro, to the state Board of Medicine and last year to a Broward County judgeship.

She is scheduled to face voters this fall.

An anonymous complaint has been filed against Judge Di Pietro with the Judicial Qualifications Commission, claiming that her campaign received financial contributions from doctors under contract at the district and from vendors with district contracts, including Zimmerman Advertising, which won an extension of a no-bid marketing contract with David Di Pietro's support.

The judge's June 2015 campaign fund-raiser was held at Zimmerman's Fort Lauderdale offices, and the agency coordinated invitations to the event, according to documents filed with the JQC.

David Di Pietro declined to comment on the complaint.

"If you don't have enough integrity to put your name on it, I'm not going to respond," he said Tuesday. "Clearly, this was done with political motivations, to hurt my family."

The hospital district keeps itself politically well-protected in Tallahassee with 16 contract lobbyists.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said they helped kill provisions in an ethics bill he sponsored in the 2016 session that would have required lobbyists at hospital districts, in Broward and elsewhere, to register and identify their clients for the first time.

The bill (HB 593), which passed the House and died in the Senate, also would have banned excessive compensation awards to departing employees, known as golden parachutes.

"The public hospital districts concentrated their efforts against ethics reform in the Senate," Gaetz said Thursday.

Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.

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