Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Alan Mendelsohn indictment shows how special-interest cash taints lawmaking in Florida's Capitol

TALLAHASSEE — The web of influence and deceit portrayed in the federal indictment of Broward County fundraising powerhouse Alan Mendelsohn tells the story of how special-interest cash taints lawmaking in Florida's Capitol.

In four instances, Mendelsohn was hired by South Florida businesses that had different interests but the same belief: To win favorable legislation to protect profits, you have to pay big bucks to a political insider.

"Alan Mendelsohn is an extreme case," said Sen. Alex Villalobos, a Miami Republican. "But there are probably other Alan Mendelsohns out there. There are sharks swimming in these dark waters."

Mendelsohn, 51, has pleaded not guilty to 32 counts of defrauding the businesses and misusing the money to help bankroll a love nest for a mistress, a luxury car for himself and his kids' education.

The indictment does not name the four businesses Mendelsohn represented, but the Times/Herald has identified them as a dialysis lab, a viaticals company selling "death futures," a casino and a credit counseling company. Nor does the indictment name a public official who allegedly received $87,000 in illegal payments funneled through the doctor's political attack committees and dummy corporations.

Mendelsohn, an eye doctor, became a consummate insider sought by lawmakers hungry for the campaign cash flowing from fundraisers at his Hollywood home, according to the indictment and those who knew him.

The cash and connections made him a force to be feared.

Villalobos survived a tough 2006 re-election campaign in which political attack committees, funded partly by Mendelsohn, flourished. He compared the attack committees to "a third-party super power with a nuke" that detonates in local elections to further agendas in the Capitol.

Professional lobbyists didn't complain openly about Mendelsohn failing to register as a lobbyist. Many feared that legislative leaders — supported by Mendelsohn — would do nothing.

Mendelsohn, his family and his major political committee contributed at least $708,000 to more than 275 legislators, legislative candidates and state causes since 1996.

Mendelsohn's indictment is the second in just six months that sheds light into the sausage making of the Legislature. In April, a state grand jury charged House Speaker Ray Sansom in an unrelated case for helping manipulate the state budget to help a contributor and a local college that gave him a job. Sansom has pleaded not guilty.

None of the four businesses that hired Mendelsohn would comment for this story. Here are details about their arrangements with him:

Contributor 1

Broward lobbyist Russ Klenet saw Mendelsohn as an ally.

For years, Klenet had represented End Stage Renal Disease Laboratories as it fought for legislation changing rules about the ownership of kidney dialysis labs. Sources and the indictment say Klenet introduced the company's owner, Dr. Mark Ginsburg, to Mendelsohn in 2002.

Klenet, who declined to comment, also greatly increased the size of the lab's lobbying team to 20, signing up the wife of then-Senate President John McKay to lobby the House.

The Senate pressured the House to pass legislation containing the company's language. The lab contributed $200,000 to Mendelsohn's committee, Alliance for Florida's Future, about three months later in August.

One of the lab's lobbyists, Scott Hopes, said he didn't know what Mendelsohn did for the lab. Hopes was hired onto the firm's team just a few months after he left a job with the state Agency for Health Care Administration, where he oversaw a report rivals criticized as too favorable to End Stage Renal Disease Labs.

Years later, Mendelsohn was part of Gov. Charlie Crist's transition team and unsuccessfully joined others in recommending Hopes to lead the health agency.

Contributor 2

Another Klenet client, Mutual Benefits, also sought out Mendelsohn as the state investigated complaints of fraud over its handling of viaticals — life insurance policies of the dying purchased by third parties in the hopes of cashing in.

Mendelsohn allegedly told Mutual Benefits owner Joel Stein­ger that he could use his influence to stop the investigation. In exchange, Mendelsohn received close to $1.7 million in contributions over two years to himself and unnamed political candidates, most Republicans.

State Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher sought to regulate Mutual Benefits more strictly. But in 2003, Gallagher's effort was stalled in a House committee that included Democratic Rep. Stacy Ritter — Klenet's wife and Broward's current mayor.

In 2004, the Senate's Republican insurance committee chairman, Bill Posey, protected Mutual Benefits with an amendment to a must-pass insurance bill sought by Gallagher, also a Republican.

Gallagher recalled telling Senate President Jim King to strip the amendment, but he says King refused.

"Some things are destined to pass," the late King said, according to Gallagher.

State prosecutors charged Stein­ger's company with racketeering in 2004. In 2007, the FBI closed in on Steinger individually. He snitched on Mendelsohn, helping make the current case.

Contributor 3

The only Mendelsohn contributor not directly tied to Klenet: Dan Adkins, president of Mardi Gras Racetrack and Gaming Center.

In 2005, the Hallandale Beach company sought favorable legislation for slot machine gaming and, the indictment says, began paying Mendelsohn at least $600,000 through 2007.

Despite receiving the money, Mendelsohn never registered as a Mardi Gras lobbyist. Instead, through circuitous means, he used his friend, ophthalmology lobbyist Stephen D. Hull, to lobby for a subsidiary of the parimutuel.

Contributor 4

Mendelsohn and Hull in 2004 worked for another Klenet client, Boca Raton-based Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, to stop Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, who was sponsoring a bill to end what he said were shady industry practices.

"I was outraged when I found out that Mendelsohn and Hull were lobbying behind the scenes to kill my bill even though it had nothing to do with medical issues," said Hasner.

Hasner said he later learned that the company's owner, Howard Dvorkin, helped pay tuition for one of Mendelsohn's children at the private Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale.

Lobbyist Sean Stafford, who worked for a Dvorkin rival, said he overheard Hull call Mendelsohn and apologize on the day the bill they tried to kill passed.

"It's like fighting ghosts with Mendelsohn," Stafford said. "We didn't want the hassle of fighting the ghosts."

Miami Herald staff writers Scott Hiaasen and Jay Weaver contributed to this report. Marc Caputo can be reached at

Alan Mendelsohn indictment shows how special-interest cash taints lawmaking in Florida's Capitol 10/09/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 10, 2009 1:12am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump sprinkles political attacks into Scout Jamboree speech

    GLEN JEAN, W.Va. — Ahead of President Donald Trump's appearance Monday at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, the troops were offered some advice on the gathering's official blog: Fully hydrate. Be "courteous" and "kind." And avoid the kind of divisive chants heard during the 2016 campaign such as "build …

    President Donald Trump addresses the Boy Scouts of America's 2017 National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.Va., July 24, 2017. [New York Times]
  2. Trump, seething about attorney general, speculates about firing Sessions, sources say

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has spoken with advisers about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as he continues to rage against Sessions' decision to recuse himself from all matters related to the Russia investigation.

  3. John McCain to return to Senate for health care vote

    WASHINGTON — The Senate plans to vote Tuesday to try to advance a sweeping rewrite of the nation's health-care laws with the last-minute arrival of Sen. John McCain — but tough talk from President Donald Trump won no new public support from skeptical GOP senators for the flagging effort that all but …

  4. Last orca calf born in captivity at a SeaWorld park dies


    ORLANDO — The last killer whale born in captivity under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program died Monday at the company's San Antonio, Texas, park, SeaWorld said.

    Thet orca Takara helps guide her newborn, Kyara, to the water's surface at SeaWorld San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas, in April. Kyara was the final killer whale born under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program. The Orlando-based company says 3-month-old Kyara died Monday. [Chris Gotshall/SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment via AP]
  5. Blake Snell steps up, but Rays lose to Orioles anyway (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell stepped up when he had to Monday and delivered an impressive career-high seven-plus innings for the Rays. That it wasn't enough in what ended up a 5-0 loss to the Orioles that was their season-high fifth straight is symptomatic of the mess they are in right now.

    Tim Beckham stands hands on hips after being doubled off first.