UPDATED: U.S. District Judge William Zloch sentenced Hollywood ophthalmologist and political operative Alan Mendelson with four years in federal prison for wire fraud today, 18 months more than his prosecutors had recommended as the maximum. Mendelsohn, who sources say is cooperating with federal and state officials in ongoing corruption cases, walked out of the courthouse a free man — he won’t have to start serving his sentence until January 2012.
The Sentinel quoted Zloch as saying at the time of sentencing: “Corruption in society is like a cancer – it spreads its tentacles. Corruption has become so common that its gravity is lost to many.”
The Hollywood ophthalmologist concealed over $600,000 in income, both from PACs from which he stole money and tax ripoffs he pulled off at his eye doctor practice.
Mendelsohn, 53, spent about $200,000 of that money for a house and car for his mistress. He diverted $82,000 to the political camp of former state Sen. Mandy Dawson, who pushed his bills in the state legislature. And he engaged in a reprehensible plot involving huge amounts of money with Ponzi schemer Joel Steinger to persuade Gov. Charlie Crist to stymie a state investigation into Steinger’s crimes with his viatical company Mutual Benefits.
But Mendelsohn said when he pled guilty last year that he was a law-abiding guy who was helping to pass good laws with the Florida Society of Opthalmology and the Florida Medical Association until he met one man.That man: Russell Klenet, the lobbyist-husband of Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter.
Klenet was working Steinger at the time and enlisted Mendelsohn to help the Ponzi schemer try to squirm out of the state investigation. Here’s how Mendelsohn described it to Judge William Zloch when he pled guilty last year. KlenetRuss Klenet had approached me to help him with his clients and unfortunately, your honor, it was these interactions with Russ Klenet which led me to a series of bad choices,” Mendelsohn declared. “It is these bad choices that I made is why I’m actually standing in front of you. … [Klenet] approached me with a handful of his clients. The deal was I would provide legistlative help to he and his clients and in exchange his clients would make generous contributions to those medical PACs that I worked so hard to raise money for. I think I did an excellent job helping fun the coffers of the PACs. But then, your honor, on his own initiative, Russ Klenet had his clients give me large payments because they were absolutely thrilled with the legislative outcome that I was able to achieve on their behalf. They were thrilled. And Russ Klenet very repeatedly [and] precisely said, ‘It’s gifts. It’s gifts because it’s in contrast to salary or income which are taxable events. It’s gifts.’ He also added that he, himself, received similar type payments and he himself had counted it as gifts. They were gifts. I should have declared those payments as income on my taxes. … Now looking back at it, it is clear I was deceived. In the process of being deceived I deceived the IRS.”
While I don’t doubt the gist of what Mendelsohn said — Klenet has a history of wrangling with the IRS — I wonder if he didn’t overplay that hand. Klenet didn’t file his tax forms, after all.