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Sen. LeMieux decries 'culture of corruption' in South Florida

A slew of South Florida political scandals have uncovered "a culture of corruption'' that must be stamped out, freshman Florida Sen. George LeMieux said Tuesday.

"I feel bad about my home town. This is another black eye on Fort Lauderdale," LeMieux said in response to a reporter's questions about accused Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.

In the past decade, Rothstein — a Broward lawyer who allegedly bilked investors over bogus legal settlements — helped steer about $2 million in campaign contributions to political causes, committees and candidates including Gov. Charlie Crist.

Rothstein's troubles surfaced after federal indictments of other Broward figures: fundraiser Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, Broward School Board member Beverly Gallagher and former Miramar commissioner Fitzroy Salesman this fall.

"We've got a culture of corruption in Southeast Florida. And we need to do something about it," LeMieux said. "It makes us look bad. It's bad for business and bad for our way of life."

Crist appointed LeMieux, his former chief of staff, to the Senate seat for which the governor is now a candidate in an increasingly competitive Republican primary. Rothstein attended LeMieux's swearing-in ceremony in September.

While lawyers in Broward's legal community whispered about Rothstein's source of seemingly inexhaustible funds, politicians and charities took loads of his money.

"You don't look at someone who's generous and just criticize," said LeMieux, who also ran Crist's gubernatorial campaign before taking the job with Crist's administration. LeMieux joined a law firm, Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, until his Senate appointment.

LeMieux acknowledged he "didn't understand how he (Rothstein) made all his money."

All of Crist's chiefs of staff have hailed from Broward: LeMieux, current campaign manager Eric Eikenberg and current chief Shane Strum.

Crist has downplayed his relationship with Rothstein, though each attended the other's wedding reception. Crist appointed Rothstein to a judicial nominating panel in Broward before stripping him from the post Tuesday.

Crist has called for a statewide grand jury to examine political corruption. LeMieux supports the effort.

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

Sen. LeMieux decries 'culture of corruption' in South Florida 11/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 8:36pm]

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