GOP fundraiser Alan Mendelsohn to plead guilty to scheme

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald


Published December 10, 2010

A prominent Broward County ophthalmologist who raised millions for Republicans and once advised Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to plead guilty Thursday to scheming to bilk the U.S. government -- including failing to report $82,000 in political donations secretly given to a former state senator.

Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, 52, is scheduled to plead in Fort Lauderdale federal court to a single conspiracy charge, which also accuses him of lying to federal agents. He is eligible to receive about two years in prison under sentencing guidelines, but his lawyers plan to seek significantly less punishment from U.S. District Judge William Zloch.

The Mendelsohn case was among a string of corruption investigations stretching from South Florida to Tallahassee in recent years.

Although the ex-senator is not identified in Mendelsohn's plea agreement, sources familiar with the case said the former politician is Mandy Dawson, a Broward Democrat. She has not been charged in the Justice Department's four-year corruption investigation into Mendelsohn and state officials.

Dawson could not be reached for comment. Her mother, who lives in Daytona Beach, said she had not heard from her daughter in a while.

Mendelsohn, initially indicted in September 2009 on dozens of fraud charges, was facing trial in January. He admitted failing to report $700,770 in income diverted from three political action committees, according to court documents filed with his plea agreement. This month, he had to pay the IRS back taxes of $196,215 from 2003-06.

Mendelsohn used some of the political proceeds for his children's private high school education, SAT tutoring, a luxury car, a mistress and other personal expenses, according to court records.

Mendelsohn had to sell his Hollywood medical practice, Eye Surgeons & Consultants, to help pay those taxes. He will be able to keep his medical license because his conviction is not related to his profession, and he plans to continue practicing in Broward, according to his attorneys Alvin Entin and John Keker.

Mendelsohn's fall is one of the stranger tales in Tallahassee history: He boasted of his close ties to Crist, whose transition team he served on in 2006. He also bragged about his connections to other GOP players, to dupe contributors into donating millions of dollars for campaigns, lobbying and other political activities, according to prosecutors.

The puffery also got him into serious trouble when he promised a wealthy Fort Lauderdale businessman facing potential fraud charges that he could exploit those supposed relationships to derail state and federal criminal investigations into the businessman's company.

In 2007, Mendelsohn asked Joel Steinger, the top executive at Mutual Benefits Corp., which sold AIDS patients' life insurance policies, if Steinger could contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars for a legislative campaign.

When Steinger told him that money was tight because he and his viatical business were under federal investigation, Mendelsohn tried to coax him by ``falsely'' saying he could get the governor's office to shut down the probe by the U.S. attorney's office in Miami, according to a statement of facts filed with the plea deal.

Steinger later turned the tables against Mendelsohn, wearing a wire for the FBI to help bring him down in a sting operation in which Steinger gave the doctor $150,000 for one of his political action committees.

Steinger was later indicted on fraud charges related to Mutual Benefits and now faces trial.

Mendelsohn's bragging sparked a broader Justice Department investigation into Mendelsohn's claims of manipulating Crist, his former chief of staff, George LeMieux, and others -- a corruption probe that cleared them and left the Broward physician as the only one charged with a crime so far.

Earlier this year, Justice Department trial attorney Mary Butler told Judge Zloch that prosecutors ``likely will add additional charges and/or defendants.'' Tax charges accusing Mendelsohn of failing to report more than $700,000 in income were added to his initial indictment, but no one else has been charged.