By ELGIN JONES
FORT LAUDERDALE — A seven-year-old investigation involving allegations of steroids use by Broward Sheriff’s deputies could end up in a lawsuit, with some of the officers claiming false imprisonment, civil rights violations and defamation.
Eight deputies hired Fort Lauderdale attorneys Robert Bissonnette and Holiday Hunt Russell in 2009 to represent them and letters detailing the allegations were sent to the Broward Sheriff’s Office threatening to sue Sheriff Al Lamberti.
The matter is still pending.
In response to public records requests for the letters, Terrance Lynch, assistant legal counsel with the BSO, said he was not sure whether any negotiations were still taking place in the case but added, “This letter is
labeled by Mr. Bissonnette to BSO as ‘Confidential and Privileged for Settlement Purposes’ and is part of a claims file that is confidential and exempt until such time as the litigation is terminated and the matter is settled.”
Bissonnette has not responded to interview requests.
The deputies are part of a group suspected of using muscle-building steroids. They were summoned to BSO’s Internal Affairs Division on Feb. 20, 2009, and ordered to surrender their service weapons prior to being interrogated.
The deputies have accused the department of false imprisonment and forcing them, in the presence of armed guards and under the threat of being fired, to sign waivers and submit to medical examinations.
“They took our guns and then they had two deputies drive each of us to a doctor’s office in Miramar,” said one deputy, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of being fired. “I repeatedly asked for an attorney and my union rep, but they said I could not call or talk to anyone.”
The letters identified the medical facility as the Occupational Medicine Centers of America, in Miramar. The doctor who conducted the “fitness for duty” examinations was Robert Fleigelman.
“I am out of it. I was dropped from the case and really don’t know what happened to it after that,” Fleigelman said in an interview with the South Florida Times this week. “A lot of the allegations were not true. They tried to bring me into it because I was the one that did the examinations but their medical expert was a dermatologist and there clearly was no medical malpractice.”
Fleigelman said he has not seen the letters sent to BSO and could not comment on them.
The BSO steroids issue dates back to 2005 when federal agents raided PowerMedica, a now closed Deerfield Beach pharmaceutical company.
BSO deputies and U.S. Food and Drug Administration agents seized drugs, computers and medical records. Several people were convicted of illegally distributing human growth hormones and steroids.
The medical records found at the facility included those of a number of BSO deputies, who were customers. In a related investigation, BSO Sgt. Lisa McElhaney, concluded that more than a dozen deputies obtained steroids through fraudulent prescriptions from PowerMedica, DaFirm and other pharmaceutical companies.
McElhaney’s investigation was ordered closed and she was transferred to a different department without explanation. But scrutiny of the deputies in questions continued, resulting in the fitness for duty examinations, and now possible legal action.
*Pictured above is Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti.