DeSantis donor connected Ladapo to Univ. of Florida

By Jeffrey Schweers, Capital Bureau USA TODAY NETWORK, Oct 30, 2021.

University of Florida Board of Trustees Chair Mori Hosseini, a millionaire developer, GOP megadonor and adviser to Gov. Ron DeSantis, sent current Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo’s resume to the president of UF Health, newly disclosed emails reveal.

Dr. David Nelson in turn forwarded the Sept. 1 email with Ladapo’s resume attached to the dean of the College of Medicine and the associate vice president for research affairs, kicking off a fast-track hiring process for Ladapo to coincide with the governor’s announcement that he was appointing the UCLA professor as his new surgeon general.

“This faculty is interested in coming to join the UF family. Google search him and see if you can guess the story. Will fill you in later but please keep confidential,” Nelson told his deans in a Sept. 2 email, hinting that Ladapo, a UCLA professor with controversial views on COVID- 19, was the governor’s choice for surgeon general.

“He looks fabulous — let me know what I can do to be supportive!” UF College of Medicine Dean Colleen Koch replied.

Ladapo is a divisive choice because his publicly held opinions on COVID-19 policies on masks and vaccines, while aligned with DeSantis, run counter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and mainstream public health officials. Since he assumed the surgeon general’s role, Ladapo has been mired in controversy. His first official act was to issue an emergency rule banning schools from quarantining students exposed to COVID- 19, leaving the decision to parents.

And he’s attracted national attention for refusing to don a mask at the request of State Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, at her office at the Florida Capitol.

Ladapo’s refusal drew criticism from Senate President Wilton Simpson, (R), who will oversee his confirmation process. DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw said the governor stands by his choice.

“Criticism from the media, activist groups, and politicians is an expected part of the job for any public figure,” Pushaw said. “This is especially true for a leader like Governor DeSantis, who is unafraid to challenge establishment narratives.”

Email from Mori Hosseini shows his role in hiring

The emails, requested by the Gainesville Sun and USA TODAY NETWORK Florida, were received Thursday, after a report was published detailing how Ladapo’s recruitment and hiring was fast-tracked to coincide with his appointment.

The email from Hosseini, with a simple FYI in the message field, reveals his until now unreported role behind the scenes as a go-between for the governor, who has relied on Hosseini as a campaign adviser.

DeSantis received $105,000 in campaign contributions from development companies owned by Hosseini. He also lent his private jet to the first lady in 2019 to fly from Tallahassee to Jacksonville to attend a fundraiser by a defense contractor, who also is a supporter of DeSantis, as first reported by Politico.

DeSantis reappointed Hosseini as chair of the UF board of trustees in February. Hosseini did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Email: ‘Future State of FL surgeon general’

In a subsequent email, Nelson told Koch and other administrators that UF Health was interested in recruiting Ladapo, a potential candidate for surgeon general to replace Dr. Scott Rivkees, also a UF Health professor who had been surgeon general for the previous two years and three months.

“There are some sensitivities regarding timing and would ask if you could expedite this communication,” Nelson said in a Sept. 3 email, adding that “Joe, Kent, and Mori are all aware and very supportive,” referring to Provost Joe Glover, President Kent Fuchs and Hosseini.

Glover and Fuchs told the UF Faculty Senate on Sept. 23 that they had nothing to do with the hiring of Ladapo, and that there was no pressure on UF Health or College of Medicine to hire him.

DeSantis also has said that Ladapo landed the twin jobs independently and the UF officials who interviewed him were not aware he was in consideration for the surgeon general post.

“Future State of FL surgeon general — we can accommodate whatever he wants in terms of meeting times!” Koch replied to the Sept. 3 email. Emails show that top administrators walked Ladado through the hiring process, including an interview with Nelson, who oversees two college campuses and hospital systems in Gainesville and Jacksonville, among other duties.

Nelson personally tweaked Ladapo’s recommended salary, adjusted his workload, and also sent out talking points to UF Health’s communications officer to be transparent about the hiring timeline and to only report Ladapo’s “base salary.”

By Sept. 17, Ladapo had an offer letter for an associate professorship at a base salary of $262,000 plus an extra $75,000 that had not been previously disclosed for running a special-projects group out of the senior vice president for health affairs office under Nelson.

‘Center right, but not far right’

At least one administrator remarked on Ladapo’s myriad opinion pieces casting doubt on the efficacy of the COVID- 19 vaccine and wearing masks.

“Opinion pieces are certainly more conservative than the current public health community, but he is actually more measured and nuanced than either end of the spectrum. Center right, but not far right,” noted Dr. Marvin Dewar, senior associate dean at UF and chief executive officer and chief medical officer of UF Health Physicians, the clinical practice arm of the UF College of Medicine.

Since becoming surgeon general, however, Ladapo has become a lightning rod. He reiterated his stance against masks for children and dismissed critics during an interview with Fox News’ host Tucker Carlson Wednesday night.

“Nothing anyone says is going to change the approach that we take to public health,’ Ladapo said. ‘We are not going to be senseless, which characterizes what this past year and a half have been.”

Danielle Ivanov, who covers higher education and general assignments for The Gainesville Sun, contributed to this report.

Contact Jeffrey Schweers at and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.

 Image Credits: Lawrence Mower