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Convicted eye doc may return to practice

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Alan Mendelsohn, an eye doctor soon to begin a four-year prison term for political corruption and tax crimes, has struck a deal that would let him return to medical practice after his release from prison.

Mendelsohn, 53, is to appear before the Florida Board of Medicine on Friday with his attorney to ask for approval of the settlement negotiated with the Department of Health. The board could adopt it or offer a counter-settlement. 

The agreement on the table includes a reprimand, a $20,000 fine, and a one-year suspension followed by three years of probation. He would be required to take some classes and and provide 500 annual hours of free ophthalmology care to indigent patients.

His prison sentence is expected to begin Jan. 1; his suspension and other discipline will be stayed until after his release, the document states.

Board members could not comment on the case, and Mendelsohn’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

But South Florida health lawyer Ramona Thomas said the agreement is well-suited to protect patients, which is the board's mission.

"They want to make sure the doctor can practice responsibly after he gets out, that's their primary concern," she said. "It will be interesting to see how they respond."

The case got a lot of attention in 2009, when Mendelsohn was accused of playing a central role in a scheme that diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars from political action committees into his own pocket.

The money came from political donors who were paying in return for behind-the-scenes legislative favors. According to the Miami Herald, investigations started after he bragged about his influence over then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

The case came into the public eye again in June, when a Miami judge imposed a harsher-than-expected jail sentence, condemning Tallahassee's corrupt "pay to play" mentality.

The jail sentence exceeded the expectations of both Mendolsohn's attorneys, who requested only probation, and Justice Department prosecutors, who recommended 2 to 2 1/2 years in prison.

Mendelsohn also pleaded guilty to conspiring with another doctor and failing to report $700,000 of his income to the IRS.

The amount that he will be required to repay to the IRS will be determined after his release from prison, according to the plea agreement.

---Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to public-service journalism. Reporter Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at 954-239-8968 or by e-mail.