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Politics

Prosecutor Dave Aronberg Took $14,000 in Donations from Clinics His Office Was Investigating

October 23, 2012 - 6:00pm

Palm Beach County state attorney candidate Dave Aronberg -- known a year ago as "Florida's drug czar" -- received almost $14,000 in campaign contributions, directly and indirectly, from a medical and lawyer referral service in February 2012 ... at the same time Aronberg's boss was investigating that service for deceptive and unfair trade practices.

In addition, Sunshine State News has obtained a copy of a letter from the Florida Commission on Ethics, dated Oct. 16, to one Shawn Hanlon, alerting him that an ethics complaint he filed against Aronberg in August has been found sufficient for investigation and has been forwarded to the Investigative Section of the Commission on Ethics. This, despite the fact that Aronberg reportedly told the editorial board of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that Hanlons complaint has been dismissed.

The revelations are the latest in a series of scandals that have riddled the former state senators Democratic campaign for the position of state attorney of the 15th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, which covers Palm Beach County.

From January 2011 to April 2012, Aronberg served as state attorney general (AG), Pam Bondis special prosecutor for prescription drug trafficking. The appointment made Aronberg a $92,000-a-year salaried assistant attorney general (AAG) and legal adviser to the Florida AGs war against the states pill mills, medical clinics that prescribe and dispense pain killers and other narcotics under dubious medical pretenses.

Aronberg had served from 2002 to 2010 in the Florida Senate, where he advocated for legislation to establish a prescription drug database and for stricter regulation of ownership and operation of pain clinics. He was widely regarded as a natural fit for the job Bondi needed to fill.

Filings at the Division of Elections for Feb. 27 and 28 show that Aronberg received almost $14,000 in campaign contributions from chiropractor Robert Lewin and businesses associated with him. Lewin is best known as the founder and owner of 411 PAIN, a medical and lawyer referral service most famous for the advertisements it runs during daytime talk shows and soap operas.

If you or anyone you know has been injured in a car accident, call 1-800-411-Pain to see how they may be able to help, an actor dressed as a police officer tells viewers in the ads. Remember, after 911, call 411!

Theres just one problem: Aronberg received these donations while his immediate supervisor, Bondi, was investigating 411 PAIN for alleged deceptive and unfair trade practices. Bondi had alleged the Florida-based company had misleading advertising by claiming consumers could be entitled to up to $100,000 or more for injuries and lost wages sustained in accidents and that consumers could obtain more than $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection benefits or compensation for the injuries and lost wages.

The company also allegedly misled consumers into believing that actual police officers, rather than actors, were mandating that consumers call 411-PAIN after calling emergency services.

From at least September 2011 to June 2012, 411 PAIN was under investigation; the donations were made to Aronbergs campaign well within that time period, while Aronberg was serving as Bondis AAG.

According to the filings, Lewin personally contributed the statutory maximum of $500; an additional $9,500 was contributed by family members and businesses Lewin owns, most of which are 411 PAIN-affiliated clinics registered with the Florida Department of Health as massage establishments. An additional $3,500 was donated by massage establishments owned by one Kimberly Russo; she and Lewin are business partners and share a mailing address.

In June, Bondis office filed its lawsuit against 411 PAIN and agreed to a settlement. Under its terms, 411 PAIN had to stop advertising a specific amount of monetary reward and lost wages, and end all advertisements that did not clearly state that depicted police officers were paid actors.

"How can an AAG take campaign contributions from a subject of an AG investigation? Dina Keever, a former federal prosecutor and Aronbergs Republican opponent, asks Sunshine State News. It is outrageous, unethical, and irresponsible.

These are not the first ethics allegations to haunt Aronbergs campaign to become Palm Beach Countys next chief law enforcement officer. In July, the Palm Beach Post published an in-depth reportdocumenting his involvement in a months-long secret campaign against then-State Attorney Michael McAuliffe, before Aronberg himself officially filed as a candidate.

According to documentation provided by the Post, Aronberg conducted his stealth campaign while he was working on the taxpayer dime; during the course of it, he took a free ride in a private airplane owned by that campaigns millionaire financier, Marty O'Boyle, who was upset with McAuliffe because he would not expunge a criminal DUI from the record of OBoyles daughter. OBoyle told the Post he thought he and Aronberg had an understanding, should Aronberg be elected the new state attorney in November 2012.

The stealth effort may have violated a number of state laws. Indeed, the Posts reporting inspired one concerned citizen, Shawn Hanlon, to file an ethics complaint in August. Last week, Robert G. Malone, senior ethics investigator at the state Commission on Ethics, wrote Hanlon back, letting him know that his complaint has been found sufficient for investigation, and asking Hanlon to provide a list of potential witnesses and any relevant documentation that could assist the states inquest.

Keever tells Sunshine State News that Aronberg told her, in front of a Sun Sentinel newspaper editorial panel, that the ethics charges had been dismissed.

Hanlon, a 29 year-old information systems technician from Palm Beach Gardens, tells Sunshine State News hes a registered independent, and had never been politically active. He says he was not approached by Keever or anyone else associated with her campaign, and is "just fed up" with political corruption.

"I filed the complaint because public officials should uphold the ethics standards outlined in Florida law, he tells the News. Palm Beach County is trying to restore the publics trust after years of public corruption scandals. Mr. Aronbergs actions, which are now being investigated, raise concern about whether hell just add to the corruption problem instead of fighting to clean it up.

Several Palm Beach County commissioners have been convicted on corruption charges over the last seven years, and the county elections office has been a hotbed of electoral shenanigans as well. In 2009, Time magazine awarded the county the dubious title Capital of Florida Corruption.

This is a very disturbing pattern, Keever tells the News. How can Aronberg possibly be the state attorney amidst this cloud of corruption? The state attorney must be above reproach and Mr. Aronberg clearly is not.

Keever showed Sunshine State News two letters she sent to the AGs office outlining these allegations against Aronberg, including the latest ones involving 411 PAIN: one to Bondi directly, dated Aug. 22; and another to the Office of the Inspector General, dated Oct. 11. To date, she has not received a response.

All of this occurred while Mr. Aronberg was on Pam Bondis payroll, she tells the News. And I believe thats why Bondi has refused to investigate. It makes her look bad, it happened on her watch.

Neither Aronbergs campaign nor Bondis office returned comment by the time this story went to press.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (954) 235-9116.

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