From Poder Magazine, December 2010
Memories of 2010: Scattered Pictures of the Fraud We Left BehindSome of the ways we were, and probably still are, in Greater Miami
By Kirk Nielsen
With a new Republican-led House of Representatives in Washington, and a voter mandate to cut spending, we’re all supposed to prepare for smaller, more accountable government. Of course, that’s going to prompt all kinds of crises, especially at the municipal level. Good thing we here in Greater Miami actually got a head start on some of them in 2010. The wake-up call came in February at Jackson Health Systems, Miami-Dade County’s tax-supported hospital for the tired and huddled masses. There was an amazing discovery: a $244.6 million deficit for fiscal year 2009. No one is quite sure how that happened. But eleven months later, we can all take heart. The new diagnosis? The estimated loss for fiscal year 2010 is only $88 million. That’s still pretty sick, but knowing is the first step to healing. Prognosis for 2011: longer, more huddled lines at JHS, sicker people on the Greater Miami streets.
With summer came the realization that we’ve had a new industry in our midst for years and didn’t even know it. Apparently it is also one of the area’s most lucrative, behind real estate, tourism, and drug trafficking. Its name: Medicare fraud. Month after month, in the spirit of free market competition, our best Medicare defrauders continued to outdo each other, according to the local U.S. attorney’s office. By year’s end American Therapeutic Corp. emerged as the industry leader, with $84 million in bogus Medicare earnings and $100 million more in the pipeline at the time of their arrests. Overall, allegations of total fraudulent Medicare billings in South Florida approached $2 billion, as far as federal prosecutors know. Prognosis: continued downturn for Medicare fraudsters. Less waste at Medicare.
Anti-tax fever was so high that even the Florida Marlins felt it in 2010. Construction proceeded on the team’s new “$645 million” retractable roof baseball stadium and taxpayers are still paying for most of it ($515 million). But a national press leak of Marlins financial records showed the team ended the 2008-09 season with a $49 million profit. At press time county commissioners were exploring ways to make the team pay for a bigger portion of its stadium. Prognosis: prolonged stadium finance crisis, as redistribution of wealth from county taxpayers to baseball team continues.
The revelation of Marlins earnings was also to cast a long shadow on a new budget proposed by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who backed the stadium deal, would cut hundreds of county jobs, while raising property taxes 12 percent and employee salaries by $132 million. That tax hike sent Republican automobile dealer Norman Braman on a drive to recall not more Toyotas but Alvarez (who’s also a Republican). Prognosis: With anti-tax fever at an all-time high in Miami-Dade and seemingly everywhere in the nation, Braman has a reasonable chance of seeing voters eject Alvarez in 2011.
While Alvarez’s political capital depreciated in 2010, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado’s rose. As a city commissioner he’d cast the lone vote against the stadium deal in 2008. In August 2010 he avoided laying off city workers by confronting police and firefighters unions—precisely what Alvarez did not do. Moreover, Regalado (another Republican) and city manager Carlos Migoya pushed through a budget with reduced salaries, pensions and benefits for city employees. Prognosis: a continuing budget deficit will force Regalado and the commission to lay off city workers—or raise taxes.
There was even one sign of hope in 2010 for a more fiscally-responsible Miami-Dade commission, as Jean Monastime ousted County Commissioner Dorrin Rolle, who’d held the District 2 seat for 12 years. It was a triple whammy. Besides becoming the first Haitian American on the commission, Monastime knocked out one of the most fiscally-challenged politicians in the county, and did so by spending three times less money as Rolle. Monastime had campaigned to bring “accountability” and “efficiency” to county government. Rolle’s nonprofit, the James E. Scott Community Association, achieved bankruptcy this summer, owing former employees $600,000, Miami-Dade County $1.4 million and Jackson Health Systems $352,000. Prognosis: Those funds, like so many other local taxpayer dollars, are forever wasted.