Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Mendelsohn case started with businessman's tip

Wealthy Fort Lauderdale businessman Joel Steinger, the target of a fraud investigation, realized he was in a jam. So he went to the FBI in 2007 with an incredible story: He and major fundraiser Alan Mendelsohn had bribed Charlie Crist when he was Florida's attorney general.

Intrigued, the FBI wired up Steinger and had him record tantalizing conversations with Mendelsohn that seemed to support the allegation: Mendelsohn, in fact, boasted of bribing Crist to shut down state and federal investigations into Steinger's insurance company, Mutual Benefits Corp.

But here's what nobody but Mendelsohn knew: His claims about the governor were all a lie.

A federal indictment charges Mendelsohn, 51, a Hollywood eye doctor, with running his own con, manipulating Steinger into donating more than $1.5 million to the doctor's political committees with false promises that Crist and his top aides would thwart the state inquiry.

Later, confronted with recordings of his own words, Mendelsohn admitted it was all puffery. But the FBI was so skeptical — was Mendelsohn lying about his lies? — that agents had him call the governor's chief of staff, George LeMieux, to see if he would implicate himself as a bribe taker.

LeMieux saw right through Mendelsohn's clumsy attempt.

It was the beginning of the end for Mendelsohn — a miscalculation that undermined his credibility with the FBI and turned the spotlight on him.

The outcome: a two-year inquiry into alleged influence-peddling schemes — primarily for Republican contributors and candidates — that led to a 32-count indictment last month.

Mendelsohn is charged with defrauding fat-cat contributors who gave more than $2 million to his three political action committees. Like Steinger, they thought they were buying Mendelsohn's clout. But he allegedly spent at least $642,000 of the donations on himself and his mistress — and funneled $87,000 to an unnamed "public official" in Florida.

His trial is set for May. The Justice Department says it expects to add new defendants and charges.

Mendelsohn case started with businessman's tip 10/10/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 10, 2009 9:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. UPS relocates express operations from St. Pete-Clearwater to TIA

    Airlines

    TAMPA — United Parcel Service Inc. is switching airports for its express air operations. Beginning in October, UPS will relocate from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport.

    Beginning in October, UPS will move from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport. [Associated Press file photo]

  2. St. Petersburg man shot in arm during home invasion robbery

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — One man was arrested on charges he shot another man in the arm while attempting to rob a home in what St. Petersburg police are calling a drug-related incident.

    John Alam, 25, faces charges of home invasion robbery, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and possession of a firearm by a felon after deputies said he tried to rob a home Wednesday morning and ended up shooting someone. [Courtesy of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Bob Buckhorn, a mayor who knows what he wants, surveys constituents on what they want

    Local

    TAMPA — Focus has not been a problem — or really, even a question — during the six-plus years that Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been in office.

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn keeps a digital countdown clock in his office showing the days, hours. minutes and seconds until he is term-limited out of office on April 1, 2019. As of Wednesday, he had 584 days to go. [City of Tampa]
  4. WATCH: Heroic Hooters manager helps two sheriff's deputies subdue unruly customer

    Crime

    BRANDON — The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office praised a heroic Hooters Restaurant manager Wednesday for coming to the aid of two deputies struggling to subdue an unruly customer.

    It took two deputies and a Hooter's manager to get control of Ashton B. Toney after he threatened to kill an employee who refused to serve him alcohol at a Hooter's in Brandon, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office reported.
[Booking photo from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]