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With corruption, timing is everything

Alan Mendelsohn, a politically connected physician, was sentenced to four years.

Associated Press

Alan Mendelsohn, a politically connected physician, was sentenced to four years.

It's often been said that the one thing politics and stand-up comedy have in common is that timing is everything. The same also probably holds true when it comes to bribery. • In a few months Dr. Alan Mendelsohn will report to a federal prison to begin a four-year sentence in a public corruption case that saw him divert $700,000 for personal use from a political action committee he controlled. There is also the delicate matter of hiring an associate of then-Florida state Sen. Mandy Dawson, D-Fort Lauderdale, who served as a conduit for the elected official to receive $82,000 from the now-disgraced physician.

As a convicted bagman, Mendelsohn has already lost his career, a chunk of his personal fortune and his reputation, which means, of course, one of these days he would fit right in as a member of the Florida Legislature.

But as Mendelsohn sits in the hoosegow contemplating his fall from grace, the thought is bound to eventually occur to him that if only he had waited just a bit, he could have bribed all manner of Florida's elected poltroon of pols and it would have been perfectly legal.

Instead Mendelsohn might well have to share a cell with a bipolar Luca Brasi.

In a court hearing, Mendelsohn told U.S. District Judge William Zloch that the only way to have juice in Tallahassee was to pay bribes. Otherwise the aspiring influence-peddler would be "toast," which is sort of how the good doctor wound up anyway.

The judge countered that the Mendelsohn case struck at the heart of the Florida Legislature, or perhaps body parts further south. Then the judge noted the defendant "actually facilitated a corrupt democratic process in the Florida Legislature."

Isn't that precious?

The judge, bless his gavel, is wrong. He's giving Mendelsohn way too much credit. The Florida Legislature always has done a perfectly bully job of corrupting itself long before the doctor showed up with his well-greased checkbook.

Still, you have to admit it's bad for imagemaking to have oafs like Mendelsohn being led off to the big house and judges running around whining about the Florida Legislature as an institution so corrupt it makes the Syrian government look like the Mayberry Tree Preservation Council.

Even before the Legislature was making it more convenient for members to accept gratuities, a statewide grand jury concluded if you were sitting next to a lawmaker in a saloon and nature called, you wouldn't want to leave your bar change unattended while you were in the loo.

And so in a stroke of sheer perverted genius, the Legislature simply legalized bribery. Earlier this year the Legislature resurrected a scam it called "leadership funds," which permits House and Senate leaders in both parties to raise unlimited sums of money.

So had Mendelsohn opted to drop $82,000 into the leadership funds set up by House Speaker Dean Cannon or Senate President Mike Haridopolos, they would have been erecting a statue honoring the doctor as a great patron of public service.

Instead, Mendelsohn will be spending the next four years sleeping with one eye open.

The feds are reportedly looking into the relationship between Mendelsohn and Dawson, who has health issues and no longer serves in the Senate. At the time the $82,000 made its way to the senator, Dawson chaired the Health Policy Committee, a body of keen interest to folks in the medical profession. See earlier reference to "toast."

Still, Dawson was a Democrat in a Legislature firmly controlled by Republicans. This was a bit like betting the ranch on the Washington Generals that they will improve upon their 2-to-13,000 losing record against the Harlem Globetrotters.

However, nothing clears the mind more than the prospect of spending the next four years envisioning yourself in something out of Papillon. So it's possible the FBI might be eager to hear more of Mendelsohn's thoughts on his firsthand experiences in paying bribes to public servants who, while they may not be bought, can certainly be had on a short-term lease.

Do you get the feeling, though, that even if the FBI were to come up with an array of public corruption cases, the Florida Legislature would figure out a way to retroactively legalize it before the first handcuffs were snapped into place?

After all, you can't put too high a price on good government, although Tallahassee is always willing to listen.

With corruption, timing is everything 06/06/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 6, 2011 6:24pm]

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