Former Gov. Charlie Crist’s campaign – though not Crist himself – hit back hard Thursday against allegations that emanated this week from convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.
“There’s nothing even remotely credible about what he’s saying and it’s clearly being said just to elevate his own warped self-importance,” said Crist confidant Dan Gelber, a former Democratic state senator whose district included part of Broward County.
Rothstein “spent his entire day every day lying to everybody he knew cared and loved. So the idea that … something he would say would have any credibility is nuts.”
The Republican Party of Florida sought Thursday to capitalize on testimony relating to Crist offered by Rothstein in a federal trial of one of his alleged co-conspirators.
“For a guy who claims to be ‘the people’s governor,’ this is devastating,” state Republican communications director Susan Hepworth emailed reporters. “He was owned by a Ponzi-schemer his first time as governor.”
Crist, a former Republican, is now a Democrat seeking his new party’s nomination to return to his old job.
Before the Ponzi scheme imploded, Rothstein lavished campaign money on Republican politicians, including Crist, 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, and former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale.
Here’s what Sun Sentinel Reporter Paula McMahon and columnist Mike Mayo, who were in the federal courtroom on Wednesday, reported:
Rothstein said he had huge influence over Crist and used his political appointment to a local judicial nominating commission to improperly ensure that Crist's personal favorites were nominated to the 4th District Court of Appeal and to the Broward Circuit Court, as well as pushing Rothstein's own preferred candidates who would "favor our law firm."
Rothstein said of Crist: “He was a friend and a business associate.”
And then Rothstein went on to describe the "quid pro quo" arrangement he had with Crist regarding local judicial appointments, wherein Rothstein said: "For certain [campaign] contributions, people were appointed to the bench."
"I was able to convince him to do a lot of things," said Rothstein, now serving a 50-year federal prison sentence for running a $1.4 billion Ponzi scheme.
Crist campaign spokesman Kevin Cate said the former governor wasn’t available Thursday to respond to Rothstein's statements.
The campaign asked Gelber to respond. “The campaign isn’t, I don’t think, dignifying it with a response.”
Gelber said he has an up-close insight into Rothstein because he represented a client who Rothstein had made accusations against. Gelber, who said he sat through many Rothstein proceedings, said his client hasn’t been charged with wrongdoing.
“Scott Rothstein may be one of the great liars and scam artists in Florida history, which is pretty amazing. He’s acquitted himself even among a place notorious for producing great liars and scam artists. I think he’s reached almost sociopathic levels, which is why he’s serving a 50-year jail sentence,” Gelber said.
Gelber said Rothstein’s suspect credibility is highlighted by his role in this week’s trial. Rothstein isn’t a prosecution witness; instead, he was called by the defense to show “what a liar he is.”
“He’s just a world-class liar. I think he’s pretty pathetic. He’s craving attention, probably enjoying the trip from his jail cell to be in the community for testimony. I think he’s saying anything that elevates is own self-importance. It’s really just pathetic and utterly unbelievable in every way.
“I’m not sure it qualifies as news other than as news of the absurd….
“He’s sort of been revealed for the sociopathic liar that apparently he was.
“It should be pointed out that a lot of very well known people and respected people – including public officials, sports heroes, very legitimate charities – all believed him to be a real philanthropist, until it was revealed he was a sociopathic liar.”
In a 2009 interview with the Sun Sentinel editorial board, Crist said Rothstein’s contributions didn’t influence him when it came to the judicial nominating process or anything else.
“I’m an honest guy. And as far as I’m concerned, if people want to give to my campaign and help me, I’m grateful. And if they ask for something in return for it, they don’t get it. And nobody does ask for anything in return. They don’t. Not to me.”
If people try to use Rothstein against him politically, “I’ll fight back and tell the truth.”
He said he didn’t remember how he met Rothstein.
“Any candidate finds the need to raise funds in order to communicate. You all understand communication better than anybody. It’s important to be able to communicate. And so raising funds is, it’s a necessary part of being able to communicate effectively. Now I’m sure there are all sorts of motivations for people who want to help a candidate. Hopefully they include the following: They believe in what you believe in. They support the policies that you espouse. They believe that once you get into office you’ll do your darndest to get things done that you talked about during the course of the campaign. And those are the conversations I’ve had with people in terms of helping me.”
He said it was the “same” with Rothstein.
What kind of help did Rothstein want? “He wanted good government is what he told me.”
At the time, Crist said, he considered Rothstein a friend and he “trusted him.” He said what Rothstein did was “terrible.”