TBO: Scott’s Columbia/HCA Case Overshadowed TGH Probe

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Published int The Tampa Tribune today, this article reveals how the HCA scandal overshadowed the joint criminal investigation by FDLE, the FBI, and IRS into allegations that Rick Scott’s company, Columbia/HCA “sought to rig the purchase of what then was the county-owned Tampa General Hospital.”

By William March | Tribune Staff William March on Google+

TAMPA ­­— Rick Scott won the Florida governor’s office in 2010 despite his history as head of a hospital chain that paid the biggest health care fraud fine in history, $1.7 billion, for cheating government programs that serve the elderly, the military and the poor.

Democrats are trying to make that an issue again in the 2014 election.

But the 1990s scandal involving Scott’s company, Columbia/HCA, overshadowed another investigation, one into whether Scott and florida-public-employees-tampa-general-hospital-rick-scott-hcaColumbia/HCA sought to rig the purchase of what then was the county-owned Tampa General Hospital.

No charges were filed in the case despite a 1½-year investigation that involved a federal grand jury in Tampa. But that outcome never satisfied the man whose suspicions brought about the investigation, one of Florida’s most respected political and civic leaders, the lateFred Karl.

In 1995, his career already nearing its end, Karl was brought in as TGH president to quell a public outcry over the possible sale of the hospital and halted the negotiations.

What wasn’t widely reported then, and what Karl didn’t know at the time, was that investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the FBI and IRS also looked into other similar complaints in Florida — two involving public or nonprofit hospitals that Columbia/HCA wanted to buy.

The company, with Scott’s direct involvement, was accused of offering public officials and hospital executives benefits including jobs and gifts to favorite charities if they could arrange health care contracts or a hospital sale to Columbia/HCA.

florida-public-employees-rick-scott-hca-investigationIn the Tampa case, Karl suspected that hospital officials, including his predecessor as TGH president, David Bussone, sought to engineer a sale by making the hospital appear to be on the verge of financial collapse. When the TGH board chairman asked Bussone to resign because of his involvement in the sale negotiations, Bussone went to work for Columbia/HCA.

Karl took his suspicions to then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth.

“When you get an allegation from someone like Fred, you take it seriously,” Butterworth told the Tribune recently. But the state “didn’t have the resources or jurisdiction to do what the feds could do,” he said. “The feds had a much larger case.”

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