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Charges dropped against local attorney, wife

BRADENTON — A local attorney and his wife won’t face trial on charges of operating unlicensed assisted living facilities.

Prosecutors in Tampa declined to file charges against Peter and Maria Lombardo on three counts each of operating unlicensed facilities, according to court documents filed this week by Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney Mark F. Lewis.

Lewis reviewed the case presented by the Florida Attorney General’s Office because the Manatee State Attorney’s Office claimed a potential conflict of interest and Gov. Charlie Crist’s office agreed.

Peter Lombardo worked as a prosecutor in Manatee for many years, rising to the rank of division chief, and he now represents clients as a defense attorney, according to Manatee Assistant State Attorney Ed Brodsky.

In a letter to Crist, Lewis wrote “the fundamental reason for this decision is the availability of adequate civil remedies.” For example, civil remedies could include things such as fines or inspections for compliance, as opposed to criminal prosecution.

“Obviously, the Lombardos are very, very relieved to bring this stressful and unfair situation to a close,” the Lombardos’ attorney, Greg Hagopian, said Friday.

In May, the attorney general’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit arrested the Lombardos following a months-long investigation. Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Sandi Copes said in an e-mail that her office had not received official notification of Lewis’ decision.

The state began investigating the Lombardos after emergency personnel responded to their home at 1303 91st Court NW on Sept. 5, 2009, and reported finding “five elderly females residing in the home under substandard conditions,” according to an attorney general’s report.

Firefighters then filed a report with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees assisted living facilities, saying that such a facility might be in operation in the Lombardo home. Investigators with AHCA brought in agents with the attorney general’s office to take over the investigation, which would go on for eight months.

Investigators with both agencies made numerous visits to the Lombardo home, a condominium the couple owns at 501 Gulf Drive, Bradenton Beach, and a third residence, at 511 75th St. NW, Bradenton.

During those visits, investigators found several elderly people living in the homes, and during interviews some residents reported that the Lombardos provided them medication and cared for them.

Several nurses also told investigators they worked in the homes caring for the people living there, according to the investigator in the case, Medicaid Fraud Agent Minerva Arocho.

Upon his client’s arrest, Hagopian blasted the case, saying the charges would eventually be dropped. He said the Lombardos have impeccable reputations.

In addition to her husband’s work as an attorney, Maria Lombardo has been employed as a social worker in nursing home facilities for 18 years in Florida. The couple has an assisted living facility in Bradenton that recently had its license renewed by the same agency that opened the investigation, Hagopian said.

“You have an overzealous investigator trying to make a name, making up charges where there are none,” Hagopian said in May.

“These charges are not true; fictitious accounts that are not based in reality.”