Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein doled out large bonuses to his firm's lawyers, purportedly for exemplary work — but they would receive the awards only after they made fat campaign contributions in their names to political candidates of Rothstein's choice.
That allegation, tucked into federal racketeering charges filed Tuesday against Rothstein, says the employees' donations to politicians — including Gov. Charlie Crist — were illegal because they were bundled and funded with money from the lawyer's $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.
"(The) conduct was designed to conceal the true source of the contribution and to illegally circumvent campaign finance laws," according to the charges.
Rothstein, 47, was under investigation for a month after investors in his deals to sell legal settlements accused him of stealing from them. He was arrested Tuesday on racketeering, money laundering and fraud charges, and pleaded not guilty before a magistrate judge in Fort Lauderdale. He faces up to 100 years in prison. He was ordered held in jail until trial.
Authorities said he spent tens of millions of dollars on his lavish lifestyle and donated millions more to charities and politicians to enhance his reputation.
All told, Rothstein and the lawyers associated with his firm gave more than $2.1 million to state and federal candidates and political committees since he allegedly began his scam in 2005.
Crist, a Republican, received more contributions from Rothstein and lawyers of his firm — Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler — than any other candidate this year: $80,450 for his U.S. Senate bid, according to records.
Asked whether he would return all the money now that federal authorities are alleging Rothstein's contributions were tainted, Crist said: "Well, certainly, if there's evidence that indicates (wrongdoing) that's exactly what we would do."
Dozens of other politicians are preparing to do the same.
Rothstein was so instrumental in Crist's successful 2006 governor's race that Crist appointed him to a panel that nominated Broward County judicial candidates.
Except for Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who is running for governor, a few Democrats and a single $200,000 check Rothstein gave to the Florida Democratic Party in September, most of Rothstein's political contributions went to Republicans. The state's Republican Party has received at least $628,000 from Rothstein and his firm since 2005.
According to the racketeering charges, prosecutors sought to recover campaign donations made by Rothstein himself to Crist ($9,600), Sink ($6,000) and the state GOP ($145,000). All three voluntarily returned the money to the U.S. government, prosecutors said.
Times/Herald staff writer Lee Logan contributed to this report.