Rick Scott reported an eye-popping net worth of more than $218 million last month in forms filed with the state Division of Elections.
But the Republican candidate for governor also has tens of millions of dollars tucked in a trust under his wife's name and in a family limited partnership. He has amassed a complicated network of investments, holdings and companies designed to shield against legal and tax liabilities, according to a St. Petersburg Times review of his financial holdings.
In fact, it's likely impossible to know Scott's true wealth.
Among the more complex financial maneuvers, Scott has formed limited liability corporations for the sole purpose of purchasing stocks. Those corporations are largely divided between three Scott entities — his trust, his wife's trust and a family partnership. Other investors are only nominally tied to the company, and Scott makes the decisions about when to buy or sell.
The setup is legal, financial planners say, and helps artificially lower the net worth the former health care CEO listed on his required financial disclosure by almost $32 million because Scott is not required by the state to list his wife's income or assets.
Campaign spokesman Jen Baker said Scott followed the state's instructions in filling out the disclosure, noting that Democrat Alex Sink did not detail husband Bill McBride's income or stock portfolio. But, unlike McBride, Scott's spouse has been a principal contributor to her husband's campaign, funneling $2 million from her trust fund toward a 527 group promoting his candidacy.
The Scott family investment strategy is just one small string in his elaborate web of financial holdings, a portfolio that will be scrutinized ahead of the Aug. 24 primary. An attack from gubernatorial rival Bill McCollum sent the Times on a circuitous and fascinating hunt this week.
Scott's stock holdings
Candidates running for office are required to file financial disclosure forms that list income, assets and liabilities. Scott, who made hundreds of millions of dollars running the hospital chain Columbia/HCA, filed a disclosure on June 18 that is more complicated than most.
It lists dozens of investments — in stocks and bonds and in companies — and not a dollar of personal debt.
McCollum criticized one of those investments last week. Telecommunications company XFone, which announced in March that it received $63 million in federal stimulus money, lists Scott as a major shareholder in news releases and required government filings. McCollum called out Scott for opposing the federal stimulus in his campaign for governor but quietly benefiting from it in his private life.
The accusation prompted a review from the Times that appeared to show Scott undervalued his XFone stock as well as stock with six other publicly traded companies in his financial disclosure.
According to required filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Scott is the listed owner of about 3.3 million shares of XFone, which translates to about 18 percent of the company. Those shares translated to a value of nearly $2.3 million on Dec. 31, 2009, the date Scott cites in his disclosure statement. Yet Scott reported their worth at only $436,000.
Scott did not sell any of his shares before the end of 2009, and has not sold any shares since, said XFone spokesman John Nesbett. XFone stock, which was selling for 70 cents a share at the end of 2009, is now selling at $1.17 a share.
Sales, if they did occur, would have to be recorded with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Questioning the discrepancy, the Times then searched six other companies that listed Scott as a major shareholder and recorded the number of shares he owns. Like with XFone, he undervalued each stock value — by almost $32 million overall.
The instructions when filling out the state form are clear: "Marketable securities which are widely traded and whose prices are generally available should be valued based upon the closing price on the valuation date."
But something didn't add up. Why would Scott, who is worth $218 million, shy from saying he's worth $250 million, or more?
Untangling the web
Baker, Scott's spokesman, got his securities lawyer to make sense of the discrepancy.
While Scott is listed as owning 3.3 million shares of XFone with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the actual stockholder is a company he created called XFNRLSI (XFone Richard L. Scott Investments).
That company is split among Scott, his wife's trust and his family partnership, as well as four other minor investors.
The Scott family controls 95 percent of the company he formed — XFNRLSI — though Scott himself owns only 24 percent of XFNRLSI. That company, in turn, owns 18 percent of XFone.
The difference, Baker said, is reflected in Scott's financial disclosure. Baker added that while the companies Scott created actually own the stocks, the SEC lists Scott as the owner. That generated the confusion, she said.
The disclosures about the other six companies have similar explanations.
Scott's family controls 96 percent of the stocks he and his partners own of Argan Inc., a company that owns a power plant design firm, but Scott himself is directly tied to only 38 percent of the holdings.
The other companies:
• Media Sciences International, a company that makes printer cartridges. Scott's disclosure form shows him owning $40,770 in the company's stock, but the overall Scott family stock portfolio was worth $265,000 on Dec. 31.
• Key Technology, which makes food sorting and processing machines. Disclosure lists a stock value of $586,000, while the overall portfolio was valued at nearly $3 million.
• Amtech Systems, a solar power company. Scott's partnership owned $9.2 million worth of stock at the end of last year. His form says his personal interest is valued at $2.2 million.
• Wireless Telecom, a telecommunications firm. Scott lists a stock holding of $342,000 compared with an overall portfolio of $1.3 million.
• Bexil, a holding company. The Scott partnerships owned $1.3 million in stock in 2009. He lists controlling about one-third.
"The financial disclosure represents Rick's portion of all of his investments," said Baker, his spokesman. "It's exactly what the state asks for."
Scott's financial maneuvering is not uncommon, said Frank Heflin, the Arthur Andersen professor at Florida State University.
People create trusts to reduce taxes, Heflin said, especially real estate taxes when the owner or owners die. Heflin said it's also not uncommon for people to spread money among their family for calculations of net wealth. John Kerry and John McCain faced criticisms of hiding money during the 2004 and 2008 campaigns, respectively. In those cases, their wives also were independently wealthy.
But, Helfin said, "you don't have to be extremely wealthy to consider doing this."
Still, that likely won't stop Scott's rivals from portraying the disclosure as the latest controversy overshadowing his candidacy.
McCollum struck the first blow Friday, calling on Scott to reveal his true net worth.
"Rick Scott has not been transparent in any way with Florida voters," said spokesman Kristy Campbell, "and this should come as no surprise to anyone."
Times staff writer Cristina Silva contributed to this report. Aaron Sharockman can be reached at email@example.com.