Rick Scott wants to drug-test his brother
When Gov. Rick Scott, a rising star of the Tea Party movement, signed into law a bill May 31 requiring that Florida's welfare recipients pass drug tests, he didn't mention how close to home the issue hits.
Scott has a brother in Texas who receives welfare — and might also have a history of drug use. That brother, 54-year-old Roger Scott, lives in Dallas. Public records indicate that a Roger Scott with the same date of birth — and other identifying information — has a criminal history that includes drug possession, assault, and resisting arrest.
Rick Scott's office wouldn't answer specifics about his brother. But a spokeswoman issued a statement to New Times that said, "The governor believes that everyone who applies for welfare benefits should be drug-tested."
Roger Scott, though, talked about his older sibling to two reporters from the Dallas Observer, a sister paper of New Times. At his modest two-bedroom apartment in the heart of Dallas, Roger said he's "very close to his brother" but doesn't get to spend a lot of time with him. "He's very busy, and I don't see him as much as I'd like," Roger said. "Plus, because of my financial situation, I don't have a chance to visit him as much as I'd like."
Roger has lived in Dallas for more than 20 years. Asked whether he works near his apartment, he said, "I'm on social security."
Less than a month ago, Scott signed a law that requires welfare recipients to turn in blood, hair, or urine samples before obtaining cash from the state. Scott also wanted to randomly drug-test state employees but has since backed down after receiving flak from civil liberties groups.
Scott told the media at the time that the law requiring drug tests for welfare recipients would "increase personal responsibility" and "personal accountability" by having 50,000 to 100,000 welfare recipients tested a year. "The goal of this is to make sure we don't waste taxpayers' money," Scott said. "And hopefully, more people will focus on not using illegal drugs."
A welfare recipient who fails the test will be barred from receiving state benefits for six months. After a second failed test, the state will cut off benefits for three years.
Critics of Scott's plan pointed out the governor owned $62 million woth of shares in Solantic, a walk-in clinic chain that performs drug tests for $35 each. In response, Scott transferred the shares to his wife, and when that didn't work to silence conflict-of-interest claims, he sold his stake in the company in April.
Scott's political campaign touted his family values by using his mother, Esther, in campaign ads. Esther's videos also cast the onetime health-care magnate as a rags-to-riches Everyman, an all-American Midwesterner who rose from Illinois public housing to run the nation's largest private hospital corporation, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. Scott resigned from his position as CEO in 1997 after the company came under fire for Medicare fraud. Columbia/HCA has since been fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud, much of which took place during Scott's tenure.
Scott's wife Ann and his other brothers Steve and Bill also spoke glowingly on Rick's behalf. The Scott family, however, did not have much to say about Roger. "Why do you want to get a hold of Rick's brother?" mother Esther said from her home in Kansas City, Missouri. "I don't think that's really necessary."
Esther then listed her other children, saying she'd be willing to provide their contact information rather than Roger's phone number, which she refused to share. Scott's other siblings did not return calls for comment. Esther, however, was willing to talk about Scott's early life — about which little is still known. "They were all down there for his inauguration and the primary and the general election," she said of his brothers. "All except Roger."
Roger, she said, was a "good kid" until he developed bipolar disorder. Esther said Roger's illness has been "very tough" for her. "He goes in for treatments, but he doesn't take care of himself," she said. "My son Rick has tried to help Roger for years; the whole family has."
Esther soon ended the conversation about her estranged son. "I really don't think that's anything that you need to put in the newspaper," she said. "If you want scandal on my son, then say you want scandal on my son."
New Times tracked down Rick Scott at a bill-signing ceremony last Friday at the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. Scott refused to answer questions about his brother directly but said, "Drugs are a real problem all around the country. That's why I put in the pill mill legislation." Scott said he wanted to make sure welfare recipients use their cash to get themselves on their feet rather than spend the money on drugs.
When a New Times reporter asked Scott more-specific questions, a spokesman stood between the governor and the reporter. "We already answered all your questions," the staffer said before she and the governor walked out of the Sheriff's Office.
At his Dallas apartment, Roger said he reads two newspapers daily and used to post every article about his brother on the walls. He recently stopped, he said, because there just wasn't enough space.
"I'll put it this way," he said. "I'm usually in a one-bedroom, and this is a two-bedroom. I thought this was a one-bedroom. It looked like a small house. He's at least helping me with some of the utilities, which, I mean, how many brothers or how many family members would do that? He's followed me and helped me all my life. He's financed hospital visits that I've had to do."
Roger says he "couldn't ask for a better brother.
"Rick, he used to keep a file on me to pay him back, and I'm talking about each hospital visit that he would finance," he said. "I'm telling you, he helped me way beyond the call of duty."
Get the Weekly Newsletter