An investigation by the Berger Singerman law firm discovered a pattern of threats and intimidation directed by Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca at Broward Health employees. Berger Singerman was hired by the Broward Health commissioners to monitor the Inspector General of Florida investigation into claims of corruption involving contract procurement at the North Broward Hospital District. Mitchell Berger and lawyers at his firm interviewed LaMarca and Broward Health officials regarding a multi-million dollar contract with Zimmerman Advertising.
Chip LaMarca’s role in the $71 million dollar contract for Zimmerman Advertising dominates the 132 page report from Berger Singerman. The report was made public at last week’s meeting of the Broward Health Board. Over the weekend, many news reports focused upon an August 2015 meeting at a North Broward Waffle House restaurant.
Chip LaMarca met the late Dr. Nabil El Sanadi and Doris Peek, a Broward Health senior vice president to discuss the Zimmerman Advertising contract. While LaMarca claims Zimmerman hired him to perform “community relations,” the Berger Singerman report shows he was the main force pushing the contract. According to the report, Peek claims LaMarca threatened El Sanadi. Peek stated the purpose of the meeting “was to discuss Zimmerman’s desire to epand its contract with the District and Mr. LaMarca carried the conversation.” LaMarca told Berger Singerman lawyers that El Sanadi called for the meeting. LaMarca said El Sanadi wanted his advice on “how El Sanadi should approach Mr. Zimmerman about the maketing issue.” Peek claims LaMarca stated at this meeting that his role at Zimmerman was to develop new business for Zimmerman Advertising.
At the same meeting, Peek stated LaMarca asked Broward Health to move its marketing working group meetings to a new night. The group met on Tuesdays, the same day as Broward County Commission meetings. When she asked why he wanted to attend these meetings, Peek claims LaMarca said, “he wished to identify new opportunities which could be mutually beneficial to the District and Zimmerman.”
During the Waffle House meeting, Peek claims Chip LaMarca leveled a direct threat at El Sanadi. Peek told investigators that LaMarca said, “I put you here, and I can take you out.” Peek believes LaMarca wanted El Sanadi to support the lucrative contract for Zimmerman Advertising. El Sanadi committed suicide earlier this year.
LAMARCA GOES ON THE OFFENSIVE
After news of the threat went public, Chip LaMarca moved quickly to deny that it ever happened. LaMarca told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel it was “ridiculous, outlandish statement.” In an interview with the Florida Bulldog, LaMarca said, “Having been raised by a good mother, the only way I can describe that woman [Peek] is that she was untruthful.” LaMarca told Bob Norman of WPLG Local 10 News, “This is an unfactual allegation. It’s a lie….I wouldn’t threaten a friend.”
The Berger Singerman reports states LaMarca ire may have been directed at Doris Peek as well. Peek was originally scheduled to deliver the Zimmerman proposal to the Broward Health board, but Berger Singerman lawyers learned El Sanadi wanted Peek “removed from the process” because “members of the Zimmerman team were complaining about her ‘interference’ and ‘obstruction.'” Peek believed Jordan Zimmerman and Chip LaMarca tried to get her fired many times between 2015 and El Sanadi’s death in 2016.
LaMarca denied her tried to get Peek fired, “Although he did concede that he believed her to be ‘skeptical’ of Zimmerman’s abilities.”
LaMarca claims he resigned as Vice President of Community Relations for Zimmerman Advertising on March 25 in order to talk to Berger Singerman lawyers. On the same day, lawyers for Zimmerman Advertising advised Berger Singerman they spoke to the Chief Inspector General of Florida. William Shepherd of Holland & Knight wrote, “We have offered to cooperate in [the Inspector General] formal investigation if she feels that is necessary; however, at this time, it does not seem appropriate to work with your law firm in its private engagement.” Why would Chip LaMarca decide not to wait for the Inspector General? Has LaMarca already talked to State investigators? Why would he give up a lucrative job to speak with Berger Singerman lawyers? Was he aware of Peek’s allegations before his interview?