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Medical board to seek investigation into bribery charges

Members of the Florida Board of Medicine voted Sunday to seek a grand jury investigation into charges that it sold medical licenses.

The board's request is to go to Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs.

"We've been accused of taking a bribe," said board member Pamela Campbell, a St. Petersburg lawyer. "That's very serious."

Board member Richard McEwen of Miami, the only one to vote against the motion, called the matter "a tempest in a teapot" orchestrated by state Rep. Luis Morse, R-Miami. "I'd just forget the whole darn thing."

But Gilbert Rodriguez of Tampa said that's impossible: "The more (the rumor) festers, the more it smells."

The controversy began with an Aug. 12 letter from Morse to members of the medical board, to the attorney general and to George Stuart, secretary of the Department of Professional Regulation.

Morse said he had no personal knowledge of bribes. But he said other people had told him about them. Sunday, Morse said he did not know names of tipsters. "I tried studiously to avoid asking the people to repeat their names or give me details" because he wanted to stay out of it.

Morse said he had no idea whether the rumors were true, and is glad the medical board has requested a grand jury probe.

The organization that Morse named in his letter as the rumored payer is the Florida International Medical Association, a group that represents foreign medical graduates. Its president, Dr. Antonio Saud, called Morse's statements irresponsible.

Board members agreed. But they said only a grand jury could clear them.

When the Times reported the allegations Sept. 1, Butterworth's office said it had passed Morse's letter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Board officials said they hadn't heard from FDLE.