Vignettes from the Life of Scott Rothstein
Ten days ago, just a few days before his world exploded, Scott Rothstein was bouncing about a private cocktail party held by one of Fort Lauderdale’s wealthiest couples. We won’t mention the name, as it’s assumed nobody wants his or her name mentioned simultaneously with Scott Rothstein right now. He was dressed in a bright orange shirt that looked like it was custom made for the party. His outfit looked rich, if gaudy. Above all, Scott Rothstein wanted to make sure you knew he was rich. He was loud, as always, and hugging and kissing and patting the backs of Fort Lauderdale’s well to do. He was probably at this party because of his philanthropy (the kind of people who were at this party often met at charity events). Rothstein’s largesse in the charitable community gave him credibility and opened doors to the wealthy, just as his political donations opened doors to the politically powerful. He was overtly pleasant and sociable – until in a side conversation, somebody mentioned something about the press. He blurted out an expletive about the press and made a comment that was filled with irony, even before the events over the last few days, “F--- the press. They never tell the truth anyway.” Rothstein did not care for the press. It was not the first time Rothstein had snapped at mention of the press. They were growingly suspicious of Rothstein, and he hated that. In the past several months, he had done everything short of threatening to kill a local alternative newspaper reporter who was prodding into Rothstein’s doings.
That was Scott Rothstein, hobnobber to the rich and famous. A different side of Rothstein was on display a couple months ago at Charlie Palmer Steak House (no relation to Fort Lauderdale’s Charlie Palmer, who would not want his name mentioned in a Scott Rothstein story, even as a steak house) a chic power broker hangout in Washington, D.C. Rothstein was in D.C. for the swearing in of Sen. George Lemieux. His appearance itself was a bit of a shock as anyone who knows the two knows they are complete opposites in both style and substance. Several Republican insiders questioned whether Rothstein was even invited, or if he just showed up. At Charlie Palmer’s there were two groups of people sitting at tables, both having drinks before a reception for the senator later that night. In Rothstein’s group was Grant Smith (a firm lawyer and son of former Congressman Larry Smith), political operative Roger Stone (who also worked for Rothstein’s firm), and a couple other members of the Rothstein political posse. They were dressed to the political nines, expensive watches, designer shirts, the best suits. The only thing missing was a neon billboard proclaiming they were Washington power brokers. The sign might have been subtler.
At the other table were various past and present staffers, administrators and consultants of the Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist administrations. They weren’t big money guys. Like Lemieux, they had come up through the grass roots Republican Party ranks and were there to celebrate a big day for an old friend. There is a perception that politicians liked and counted on Scott Rothstein for money. The money part was probably true, as few people in Florida wrote bigger political checks than Rothstein, but Republican political staffers were deeply suspicious of Rothstein. Their comments this night included “things don’t add up with that guy,” “stay away from him,” and “where is he getting all this money?”
Rothstein soon approached the table of political staffers and singled out Shane Strum, the soon-to-be chief of staff for the Gov. Crist. “Mr. Strum, may I have a word with you,” Rothstein asked. He pulled Strum aside, put his arm on his shoulder and began to make a pitch for one of Rothstein’s clients. The staffers cringed. It looked like a scene from "The Godfather," and Strum clearly wanted none of it. He politely dismissed the request with one of a thousand vaguely non-committal phrases that all future chiefs of staff tend to master. If Scott Rothstein was giving the impression to the world that he was best friends with the political elite, the reality was far from that. Politicians took his money, and hoped this thing did not blow up on them. In the past several days, their fears appeared to have been realized and the race to return to Rothstein money is on. A half a dozen politicians pledged their returns just yesterday. Much has been made of Rothstein’s Republican connections, but his largest recent donations have been to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink. He was often an equal-opportunity spender in his efforts to buy influence.
In the business community, suspicions of Rothstein ran deep. The county’s most prestigious business organization rejected his application for membership. They had nothing tangible against him other than “this guy really doesn’t add up.” The organization consisted of a bunch of Fort Lauderdale old timers who have seen a few con artists in their time. They were the most vocal opponents to Rothstein’s admission.
When Gold Coast magazine recently published its list of “50 Most Powerful People,” we interviewed dozens of Fort Lauderdale’s business and political elite, and all agreed he was powerful, and all were highly suspicious of his ethics and where he was getting his money. Even a great law firm, and great “business interests” don’t produce the kind of money that Scott Rothstein was throwing around town.
So when Stuart Rosenfeldt said two days ago that he was completely shocked Scott Rothstein may have stolen all the money from the firm and some outside investors, he officially became the first person in South Florida to identify himself as not being suspicious of Scott Rothstein. It’s hard to believe partners in that firm could work so closely with Rothstein, yet not wonder where Rothstein was getting all this money and the highly secretive manner in which he appears to have controlled the firms accounting. When you are riding that gravy train, maybe it doesn’t pay to ask too many questions – that is until the train goes off the track.