OKEECHOBEE — Nancy Zeigler, the former head of the Okeechobee Rehabilitation Center, is a free woman.
As of Monday, Jan. 4, the state served notice it will not pursue a charge of worker’s compensation fraud against Zeigler. And since she was acquitted of Medicaid fraud on Dec. 10, it appears her time as a defendant in circuit court are now over.
Zeigler, 54, was arrested Nov. 24, 2014, when she was accused of improperly billing Medicaid for adult day care, transportation and respite care that amounted to more than $34,000, stated state Attorney General Pam Bondi in a press release.
When a six-member jury decided on Dec. 10, 2015, that statewide prosecutor Cynthia Ann Carrino had not proven her case, they found Zeigler not guilty.
She and her Okeechobee defense attorney Glenn Sneider were then slated to appear in front of Circuit Court Judge Dan Vaughn on Wednesday, Jan. 6, to learn of her next court date. But, assistant state attorney Lev Evans notified her Monday that he had chosen to drop the worker’s comp charge against her.
“As the case developed, it became apparent we couldn’t meet one element of the crime,” said Mr. Evans, from his Fort Pierce office. “The statute says if someone lies to prevent paying worker’s comp premiums, we must prove the purpose of the lie. In our case, it became clear we didn’t have that purpose.”
In a phone interview Thursday, Jan. 7, Mr. Evans said part of his case was based hinged on an Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) rule that states a convicted felon could not work around the clients at the center, which was formerly known as the Association of Retarded Citizens (Arc).
The convicted felon, he continued, was Jeannie Bramlett. In 2001 she was found guilty of possession of a controlled substance (hydrocodone), obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, making a false or fraudulent insurance claim and grand theft. She was placed on a year’s probation.
“She (Zeigler) circumvented the rule by trying to label her (Bramlett) as an independent contractor. We can prove all that. No problem,” said Mr. Evans.
“The purpose was for Zeigler to get her friend in there. The effect (of the alleged lie) was to lower worker’s comp premiums.
“I did some research because I thought: ‘Are they (the legislature) serious?’ And, sure enough, the appellate court said you have to show the purpose,” he added.
As he continued his research to see if there was another statute that would apply to this case, he did find one. But, he added, he couldn’t use it.
“There was a violation but punishment had already been imposed,” said the prosecutor.
When the facility lost its Medicaid funding, it also lost its clientele. At that point, the Okeechobee County Board of County Commissioners voted 4-0 to evict the rehab from the county-owned building it had been using because, they claimed, the rehab had defaulted on its lease with the county.
The facility leased the building from the county for $1 per year.
When asked if the outcome of the first trial affected his decision to drop his case against Zeigler, Mr. Evans said no.
“The only effect of the other trial was it made me start studying this case even closer,” he said.
Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News