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The Big Lie

A deepening scandal in Broward County, Florida exposes the ever-present danger of executive resume fraud

Beverly Capasso was a respected and experienced health administrator in South Florida. In May 2017, after beating out several competitors she was named interim president and CEO of the troubled Broward Health system, a job that pays up to $955,000 a year.

That is when all hell broke loose.

It turned out Capasso, age 61, had padded her credentials with a master’s degree from a notorious diploma mill. Capasso remains at her publicly funded post but has declined to answer questions about her resume. The Orlando Sun Sentinel website posted a video clip of Capasso being escorted to her vehicle by a security guard to shield her from nosy reporters.

Adding to the controversy, Capasso was a member of the Broward Health board when her colleagues appointed her to the job. Board members refused comment about Capasso’s hiring, and would not say whether they conducted a formal background investigation of her. Now, the Florida State Attorney’s office is looking into the decision.

According to a national background-screening firm, more than a third of job applicants lie on their resumes. When it is an executive who doctors, or flat-out falsifies, his/her credentials the consequences for the company or organization can be devastating. In April 2017, Adcare Health Systems, Inc., a publicly traded company based in Georgia, fired its CEO William McBride for falsely claiming an MBA from UCLA. During McBride’s rocky two and half year tenure at AdCare the company’s stock price lost more than 70-percent of its value. An unrelated private equity investor reported that one of his portfolio companies lost nearly two years of momentum when a CEO was not properly vetted and had to be fired and replaced after six months on the job.

Even the federal government gets conned in this garden-variety, but sometimes deeply damaging hustle. Consider the imbroglio surrounding Donald Trump’s appointment for Comptroller of the Currency, Joseph Otting, former chief executive of Pasadena’s OneWest Bank. The announcement of his selection was still being distributed when officials at Dartmouth weighed in to say that Otting had falsely claimed a degree from the prestigious college.

Otting’s resume said he was a graduate of the “School of Credit and Financial Management at Dartmouth College.” This claim drew a public rebuke from Diana Lawrence, a spokesperson for the college. “Joseph Otting is not a Dartmouth graduate,” Lawrence told the LA Times. “Dartmouth does not have a school of credit and financial management.” What really happened was that Otting had attended a two-week seminar on the Dartmouth campus in rooms rented by an unaffiliated organization.

If confirmed by the Senate, Otting will join another former OneWest executive, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, in the Trump Administration. Both bankers were criticized by Democrats for OneWest lending practices, which leaned heavily on foreclosures, and which earned the lender a fine of $89 million for defrauding the Federal Housing Administration in connection with reverse mortgages. But Mnuchin had little trouble gaining Senate approval; Otting, with his flimsy resume, may face tougher going.

It’s an old game, this business of hyped-up or fraudulent credentials, but in the era of the Internet, the rules have definitely changed. In one sense, it’s getting tougher to deceive potential employers because the Internet has made it much easier to track down former associates and faraway institutions. LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networks make it more difficult to hide one’s past, or to invent it.

In the case of Beverly Capasso, the health administrator did indeed hold a degree from the now defunct Kennedy-Western University; the problem was the degree was worthless. Kennedy-Western was a mail and online institution based in California and Wyoming that was singled out by Congress in 2004 as an instance of fake, for-profit schools. A school brochure listed the price of a Master’s Degree as costing between $5,150 and $6,250. According to testimony, a former admissions manager at the school told investigators, “There was no value to a Kennedy-Western Education and that he was embarrassed to have ever been a part of the school.”

Diploma mills became such a problem that in February 2005, the U.S. Department of Education established its own website: The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to combat the spread of fraudulent degrees.

Cappaso does indeed hold a ‘degree’ from the now-defunct Kennedy-Western University. The problem is it’s a worthless scrap of paper from an online, mail-order degree mill.

But if the Internet makes it easier to ferret out falsehoods, it also makes it easier to establish such claims. Firms like Career Excuse and Paladin Deception Services have sprung up that will back a bogus resume with “fake job references”-as per the Career Excuse website-phony landlord references, and advice on how to craft a strong resume. Even more devious, they provide phone numbers answered by live speakers who will confirm a false work history.

Of course, no such deception is required if nobody vets the applicant’s resume. In Beverly Capasso’s case, it appears she was able to skate through the hiring process due to her prior relationships and political connections. Notably, she was a personal friend of Lynn Barrett, counsel to the Broward board. Barrett had engineered the ouster of Capasso’s predecessor at Broward, Pauline Grant, who is now suing to contest that decision.

Broward Health is a deeply troubled agency, currently operating under a five-year “corporate integrity agreement” with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; the 2015 agreement came along with a $70 million fine for alleged kickbacks to favored doctors, and a finding of “operational mismanagement” at Broward. Grant was hired after the HHS inquiry on an interim basis, and Capasso added to the board months later.

The board decided to hire Capasso at a special meeting, and a tape of the session recorded the proceedings. When the vote was called, an unidentified voice objects to Capasso voting on her own appointment in apparent violation of conflict of interest laws. But then counsel Barrett interjects, telling Capasso, “You actually can… under Robert’s Rules because she’s still a commissioner until she’s not.” Barrett did not address the question of self-dealing at the meeting, and declined comment when queried later saying “I have a constitutional right not to answer.”

Already, Capasso is dealing with a new scandal at the healthcare provider. This month the health system was found to have overpaid more than $1.5 million to a public relations firm with close ties to Governor Rick Scott, who appointed all of the Board’s members, including Capasso. Responding to the allegation, Capasso vowed that, “Every individual at our Hospital District is accountable in order to uphold our legal and ethical standards. We will continue to provide transparency and accountability to our patients, staff and community to ensure the future of Broward Health.”

That transparency will kick in, apparently, once Capasso and the board get done explaining just how they went about hiring her. The State Attorney-the elected criminal prosecutor with jurisdiction for Broward County-has announced an investigation into Capasso’s hiring at Broward Health.

While the State Attorney is not on a timeline it appears that the scandals at Broward Health will not go away any time soon.