Scott Rothstein. Scientists studying the blogosphere have discovered through experiments with rats that the mere mention of this name assures one million hits. And, in the popular mind the saga is barely underway. Fans expect to see a number of lawyers in Rothstein’s former firm in trouble. We have yet to find a lawyer outside that firm who does not believe that every lawyer in the outfit knew, or should have known, that something funny was going on. They knew what business they were doing and knew, or should have known, that the numbers did not come close to adding up.
There is even speculation that the story may develop legs, possibly involving murder and carrying far beyond South Florida, even to organized crime, perhaps all the way to Israel. It would not be the first time. One saga which comes to mind is the 1970s Bank of Sark, which operated out of Fort Lauderdale, using a charter for a non-existent bank on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. Accounts were lucky. They only lost $40 million.
An even better story is that of Michael Raymond (alias Michael Burnett) which in a strange way came out of this magazine. In 1975 a Fort Lauderdale woman named Adelaide Stiles disappeared. She had been a social writer for what is now the Sun-Sentinel, and her disappearance caught the attention of her friend, the late Margaret Walker, at the time an associate editor of Gold Coast. Maggie knew that Adelaide, in her 60s and not exactly a Playboy model, was smitten by a plump, charming man named Michael Burnett, allegedly a financial advisor, with whom she planned a European trip. When she went missing, so did her money. Burnett said they had called off the trip. What he did not say was that he was a notorious con man whose real name was Michael Raymond and that Within a short time it was learned that Adelaide Stiles was the third person in South Florida to disappear, along with money, after associating with him. With Maggie’s information, the magazine included Burnett (Raymond) in a piece on Florida scams. She also contacted the police. Raymond refused to discuss the matter and left town.
How he got away with these apparent crimes later became known. Raymond had a sideline as a government informant. He had avoided jail, or gotten out, by offering to use his talents at conning people in FBI stings. Eight years after we did the original story, Gaeton Fonzi got interested in Raymond. Fonzi was freelancing at the time and decided to check out Raymond. He was led to believe Raymond was serving an 18-year sentence for fraud. To his surprise, however, he learned that the man was not in prison.
Knowing of his background as an informant and sting man, Fonzi on a hunch contacted the local FBI. What came next was amazing, and only possible because of Fonzi’s reputation as an investigative reporter. First in Philadelphia, then in Florida, he had written sensational stories on the Kennedy Assassination and the rise and fall of the flamboyant drug runner Kenny Burnstine. The feds thought Fonzi knew more he did. An FBI attorney from Chicago contacted Fonzi and asked him not to write about Raymond. The feds were using him in an ongoing sting in Chicago, and to bring up his name, even in Florida, could endanger lives of FBI agents. The Justice Department promised to give Fonzi an exclusive story if he held off for a few months.
The story was that Raymond was in the process of entrapping Chicago officials in what became known as the parking collections sting. Cities routinely offered contracts to private firms to collect overdue parking tickets. The commissions were attractive and the business was coveted, coveted enough that firms bribed those in position to grant those contracts. The feds knew it was a big deal in Chicago and they were out to nab highly placed officials, maybe even the mayor of the city. Fonzi took the story to Miami Magazine, and agreed to give the feds some time.
They never did nail the mayor, but they got a number of others. Raymond not only stayed out of jail, he was also given a nice lifestyle, including a cozy high rise apartment and the company of ladies of pleasure. It was a wild tale, and the Florida background made it great reading here. Fonzi also took the story to the Chicago Tribune where it rocked that city. Having learned that Raymond also had New York connections, Fonzi contacted the editor of the New York Daily News, simply on the possibility that a parking collections racket might be going on in the Big Apple.
The editor, Gil Spencer, had worked with Fonzi 30 years before, and already had a Pulitzer Prize in his pocket. He jumped on the story, and so did his top star –- columnist Jimmy Breslin. Rockets went off. The borough mayor of Queens committed suicide, and among those caught in the scandal was a lawyer friend of Breslin’s. The district attorney at the time, Rudy Giuliani, then uncovered other kickbacks involving city contracts. Breslin called it the great corruption story in New York since the Tammany Hall days. The year was 1987, but the story was far from over.
Fonzi knew Doug Haas, at the time head of the organized crime unit in Broward County. Fort Lauderdale police had found an informant, who said he was with Raymond when they took Adelaide Stiles our for a boat ride. The witness described how Raymond sweet talked the woman while he came up from behind and bashed her over the head with a tire iron, then chummed up the body and threw it in pieces into waters all the way to the Florida Keys. The case never got to trial. The FBI, in a disgraceful move, brought pressure on the lead detective, and the informant, who was compromised by a long criminal history, recanted his story. A judge dismissed the charges. It was a memorable scene in front of the Broward County Courthouse when Haas and the attorney for Raymond called each other very bad names.
By now we are into the late 80s. Raymond was free and immediately went back to his criminal work. At least four more people associated with his scams wound up murdered or missing. Then he orchestrated a major embezzlement from a bank in Staten Island, N.Y. The government found an important witness, a bank teller. She was murdered by masked men who broke into her home at dinner time and gunned her down in front of her young son. This time another jailbird gave up Raymond as the money behind the hit. In 1995 he entered jail for the last time. He died there several years later, almost 25 years after Adelaide Stiles went missing. Those who remember her are still angry that the FBI permitted a man to become a serial murderer just because he was a useful investigative tool.
If Scott Rothstein’s story has legs, it has to run a long way to top this one.