Scott Gave Tax Deal to Company Running Miami's Child-Migrant Center After Fraud Settlement

The Homestead Temporary Shelter for Migrant Children in 2016.
The Homestead Temporary Shelter for Migrant Children in 2016. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
In Homestead, a federal compound housing as many as 1,000 migrant children is managed in part by a federal contractor based in Cape Canaveral called Comprehensive Health Services, which has held a contract at the Homestead camp since February 2018. Sen. Bill Nelson says 94 children at Comprehensive Health's facility have been taken from their parents by U.S. immigration agents.

According to a New Times review of past state documents, that contractor is operating in the Sunshine State thanks to a handy assist from Gov. Rick Scott's administration. In December 2016, Comprehensive Health announced a new project that would "create 150 new jobs" at its Cape Canaveral headquarters — and in exchange, the state in July 2017 awarded the company a $600,000 "qualified target-industry" tax-incentive package.

But just as Scott was negotiating that tax break, Comprehensive Health was hashing out a deal with the feds to pay a $3.8 million settlement to the U.S. Department of Justice over a medical-fraud claim. After Comprehensive Health paid the fine in February 2017 (without admitting any wrongdoing), Florida gave the company the tax breaks anyway.

As lawmakers such as Nelson have put pressure on Scott, a Trump ally, to take a stand on the facility, the governor's involvement with Comprehensive Health complicates matters. In December 2016, Scott cheered the company's expansion in Florida.

"I am proud to announce that Comprehensive Health Services Inc. has chosen Florida over Virginia for their expansion, which will create 150 new jobs," Scott said that year. "I look forward to seeing CHSi’s growth in Florida and we will continue to do all we can to cut taxes and reduce burdensome regulations so more businesses can succeed in our state.”

It turns out Scott issued that celebratory news release while the company was fighting medical-fraud complaints in federal court. The DOJ alleged Comprehensive Health had double-billed the federal government for medical services the contractor performed while giving screenings to Internal Revenue Service agents. A whistleblower, James J. Kerr, had accused the company in court of double-charging taxpayers for vision screenings, resting electrocardiograms, and the collection of blood specimens, among other procedures, from 2009 through 2014.

“Businesses that knowingly overcharge the government should be held accountable and penalized,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a news release after Comprehensive Health paid its settlement in February 2017. “Whistleblower lawsuits are a valuable tool to deter fraud and punish perpetrators.”

The Scott administration finally awarded the $600,000 tax package July 17, 2017, five months after the company paid its DOJ settlement. Comprehensive Health did not admit any wrongdoing while paying the fine, and the feds noted "there has been no determination of liability" to go along with the financial settlement.

According to state contracts, Comprehensive Health — which is one of the largest government medical contractors in America — must meet job-creation benchmarks each year from 2018 through 2021 to receive its tax incentives: The company needs to create 50 jobs in 2018, 25 more in 2019, 25 more again in 2020, and another 50 in 2021.

A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Tiffany Vause, told New Times today that in order to finally receive the money, the company must create jobs at its Brevard County location in order to receive the funds.

In response to New Times' request for comment, Comprehensive Health referred all questions to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Comprehensive Health is one of at least two contractors operating at the compound — according to WLRN, the California company American Canyon Solutions also received a contract to run “facility management services at the emergency temporary shelter” last month.

The Homestead compound, which occupies the former Job Corps vocational boarding-school site, was first used as a so-called shelter for migrant children in 2016, under the Obama administration. (It's unclear if any federal contractors ran the facility that year.) The facility was shut down the following year due to a drop in border apprehensions — but the Trump administration reopened it a few months ago without alerting the public.

Government procurement contracts unearthed by WPLG yesterday show Comprehensive Health now holds a $30 million federal contract to provide 1,000 beds at the Homestead compound. The contract was initially awarded in February and provided for only 500 beds, but 500 more were added in May.

Earlier today, Senator Nelson tried to enter the facility alongside Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who first disclosed yesterday while talking to a panel of immigration activists that the facility had reopened. The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency in charge of the so-called shelter, did not allow the lawmakers inside. Nelson has responded by putting pressure on Scott — who is running against the longtime Democratic politician for U.S. Senate in Florida — to take action.
Instead, Scott's campaign inexplicably blamed Nelson and the Democratic Party for the nation's border issues, as opposed to Scott's own party, which singlehandedly instituted a child-torture program this year.

"The mess at our border is a direct result of career politicians like Bill Nelson who are talkers, not doers," Scott's campaign told the Tampa Bay Times today.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.