Universal Health Care's CEO, A.K. Desai, has huge political pull around Florida

6:21 PM, Mar 29, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - Before candidates court your vote, they court Akshay Desai.

As embattled Universal Health Care deals with a federal investigation, its founder and former CEO has avoided the spotlight.  Akshay "A.K." Desai, a self-made millionaire, isn't known to most Floridians unless they live near his Snell Isle mansion or run in the state's political circles.

Desai and his wife have spent the last two decades financially supporting political candidates (mostly Republicans) and organizing other deep-pocketed contributors as well.  They held fundraisers at their home and were also known as "bundlers," influential campaign operatives who could deliver handfuls of checks at a time from multiple donors.

"Like former Gov. Charlie Crist could tell you, if you have AK Desai with you, all the other money guys will line up with you and he brings a lot of people to the table with him," said former Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, who received $500 from Universal Health in 2008.

Campaign records show Desai has donated more than a million dollars in the last decade between himself, his wife, and Universal Health.  

But in reality, he's meant much more to his choice candidates.  In an editorial he penned last year as longtime friend Charlie Crist was switching parties, Desai said he had donated $2 million to the former Governor since 1992.

Desai's list of benefactors reads like a "Who's Who" of Florida Politics: Jeb Bush, Mel Martinez, Will Weatherford, Vern Buchanan, Ginny Brown-Waite, and Kathy Castor, just to name a few.  He's also recently been one of the most important supporters to Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and John McCain.

"If you want to win statewide and in Florida, you have to have a positive relationship with Dr. Desai," said Brickfield.  "As goes Dr. Desai, as goes the state of Florida."

Desai served on Florida's Board of Education and was named the finance chair of the Republican Party of Florida.  But he gave up all of his titles - including CEO - as Universal Health Care started having trouble.

Federal authorities aren't providing many new details on their investigation into Universal Health Care, Inc., but approximately 1,000 employees are spending their time looking for new jobs.

Universal's approximately 100,000 members are also making accommodations as their coverage is expected to end on April 1.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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