Appeals court sides with former Tallahassee lobbyist and fundraiser

Sep 1, 2011

The following article was published in The Florida Current on August 31, 2011:

Appeals court sides with former Tallahassee lobbyist and fundraiser

By Christine Jordan Sexton

An appeals court in Tallahassee on Wednesday overturned a move by the Department of Health to suspend the medical license of prominent political fundraiser and Broward county eye doctor Alan Mendelsohn.

In a six-page ruling the court said the agency erred when it suspended Mendelsohn’s medical license through an emergency order after he pleaded guilty to one count of felony conspiracy in December 2010. Mendelsohn was sentenced to four years in prison for directing $700,000 in campaign donations for his personal use. He is scheduled to report to prison early next year.

Mendelsohn successfully argued that the emergency authority the DOH used to suspend his license without an evidentiary hearing applied to doctors charged with Medicaid fraud only. The DOH argued the law gave it the authority to suspend doctors who pleaded no contest or are convicted of any misdemeanor or felony and that it wasn’t limited to Medicaid.

William Furlow, Mendelsohn’s attorney, said he has asked the DOH to immediately revoke the suspension but that he had not heard back from the department. The DOH could, however, wait for the court to issue a mandate requiring it to reinstate his license, Furlow said 

“I’m hoping my friends over at the department won’t do that,” Furlow said.

DOH spokeswoman Nancy Blum said Wednesday the state was moving to reinstate the license.

Furlow predicted that the department would now “move swiftly” on a pending administrative complaint it has already filed against Mendelsohn in June with the Florida Board of Medicine.

The complaint alleges that Mendelsohn’s crimes of under reporting income “directly related” to the practice of medicine because he used his business to file false tax returns.  Additionally, the state is arguing in the complaint that Mendelsohn’s crimes “directly” relate to his ability to practice medicine because they are crimes that evidence a lack of good moral character, honesty, integrity, judgment, and a willingness to abide by the law.

“It is inconsequential whether the crimes arose out of respondent’s technical ability, because they show Respondent’s warped judgment by failing to pay said income tax and by concealing his true and correct income, both crimes of moral turpitude,” states the complaint.

Furlow said Mendelsohn will fight the complaint.

“We are going to argue (that has)  nothing to do with delivery of practicing services,”‘ Furlow said.

Mendelsohn, who has connections to both Gov. Charlie Crist as well as plenty of South Florida Democrats, was charged of using money from political committees to help pay expenses for his mistress and to pay for his children’s private school tuition. Mendelsohn also admitted to using money from political action committees in order to help legislation tied to the medical field, which included giving former Sen. Mandy Dawson $82,000.

Mendelsohn originally began lobbying in Tallahassee in the late 90s, in an attempt to promote the ophthalmology profession and he soon became a powerbroker and top fundraiser.

Mendelsohn was seen as instrumental in helping the Florida Medical Association and the state’s ophthalmologists. He was credited with helping shoot down a bill that would allow optometrists to prescribe oral medications and Mendelsohn pushed to get lawmakers to eventually pass a bill that requires insurers to directly pay doctors when a patient is not part of their network.

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