TALLAHASSEE — A forged e-mail that attempts to show Democrat Alex Sink was linked to a "pay to play'' scheme with convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein has emerged in the highly-contested governor's race.
The e-mail — circulated by an anonymous operative who will only call reporters from a blocked phone number — concerns efforts by the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm in 2009 to land a lucrative contract with the State Board of Administration, on which Sink sits as Florida Chief Financial Officer.
A court-approved law firm that has all of Rothstein's e-mails proclaimed the e-mail a fake, as did one of the recipients. The law firm, Berger Singerman, has strong Democratic ties; the e-mail recipient is a Sink supporter. A Republican operative who worked out of Rothstein's firm of Rothstein Rosenfeld Adler also said the correspondence appeared doctored.
The fake e-mail, however, raises questions about the evidence gathered in the criminal probe and the millions of dollars in civil claims against Rothstein's now-defunct firm, known as RRA.
The actual date, sender and recipient of the e-mail in question appear real. But the content of the e-mails was changed. That means someone could have copied RRA's e-mails before the FBI raided the firm in late 2009 or before the firm of Berger Singerman was appointed special counsel for the manager of RRA's assets this year.
"I'm very concerned that someone is obstructing justice by forging e-mails related to a criminal case and civil claims of this magnitude," said Charles Lichtman, who possesses and has reviewed tens of thousands of e-mails sent to and from Rothstein and his attorneys.
Lichtman said he and other lawyers in Berger Singerman are deciding whether they should refer the matter to criminal prosecutors or launch their own investigation into what happened regarding Rothstein's e-mails.
A high-profile Republican donor, Rothstein made a splash by endorsing Sink in June 2009. That prompted RRA attorney Grant Smith to e-mail a Sun-Sentinel news story about the endorsement to Rothstein on June 4, 2009 at 4:12 p.m.
Rothstein, taking credit for leaking the tidbit, responded about a half-hour later: ''I broke the story to him."
That line exists in both the e-mail Lichtman has and the e-mail circulated by the anonymous tipster. But the tipster's e-mail adds other information about Rothstein's purported dealings with Sink that claimed he was engaging in a "pay to play'' scheme.
That part of the e-mail is not in the e-mail database maintained by Lichtman's firm. A Miami Herald reporter in Fort Lauderdale was shown the original e-mail. Lichtman said he couldn't doctor it even if he wanted to.
Smith, the recipient of the e-mail in question, responded to Rothstein. But he said he never received any e-mail like the one alleged by the anonymous tipster.
"The e-mail is an absolute forgery. I confirmed that by checking my own e-mails, which revealed that it had been manipulated and the highly inflammatory and illegal language added by someone to Scott's response," he said. "Had such an e-mail been sent to me, however, I would have immediately advised that the conduct was prohibited and insisted that it be stopped."
Rothstein did use ill-gotten gains to make political contributions, mostly to Republicans, who received about $650,000 in Florida. But he began contributing to Democrats late last year. His firm gave $200,000 to the Florida Democratic Party and more than $10,000 to help Sink directly. All the money was returned.
About three weeks after Rothstein's large contribution to the Democratic Party, his firm was shortlisted to bid for a job with the State Board of Administration, which manages state investments. The firm never finished its bid because it was raided by the FBI.
Rothstein is in federal prison, convicted of running a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme. Prosecutors and bankruptcy lawyers are trying to recover $363 million in losses for 300-plus victims.
Sink's campaign suspected the e-mail was produced by Republicans linked to Rick Scott for circulating the document — a pdf photocopy. Scott's campaign said it didn't make the e-mail and had no knowledge about whether it was true or not. The anonymous tipster, a male, suggested he was an aggrieved worker connected either to Sink or Rothstein.
Republican operative Roger Stone, who worked out of the RRA office in a separate consulting firm, said the e-mail about the alleged "pay to play'' scheme sounds like a Rothstein plot. But, he said, the chain of e-mails sounds fake because of the involvement of Smith, known as a "Boy Scout'' at RRA who would never have condoned such activity.
Stone is a Rick Scott supporter. Both Grant Smith, Lichtman and the heads of the Berger Singerman firm are Sink supporters. One of the lead lawyers representing the victims of Rothstein's ponzi scheme, William Scherer, said he didn't know about the e-mail situation until informed by a reporter. He said he believes Lichtman that the e-mail is fake.
"I'm a good Republican. He's a good Democrat," he said. "But this isn't about politics. If Chuck says the e-mail is fake, then you can take that to the bank."
Staff writers Michael C. Bender, Amy Sherman and Jay Weaver contributed to this report