FORT LAUDERDALE — Scott Israel, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Broward County sheriff last year, won't ever forget his first encounter with lawyer Scott Rothstein, the big-time GOP fundraiser.
"We were at lunch an hour and a half, but he was only at the table 10 minutes,'' said Israel, recalling how Rothstein hopped from table to table at a Galleria Mall restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. "He always mentioned the governor every third sentence. He said, 'Give me a call Monday. I'm going to support you and give you money.'
"When he called me he would say, 'Scotty, my boy!' He wanted to sound like I was a friend of his."
Israel, though not a victim of the lawyer's now-notorious investment scheme, got the full Rothstein treatment -- the carefully cultivated aura of clout, wealth and generosity displayed at a frenetic pace.
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Those characteristics enabled Rothstein to win over wealthy investors who gave him $1.2 billion for his purported legal-settlement deals. Their trust and money helped Rothstein, who was raised in a working-class Bronx family, attain a heightened status that fed both his craving for the limelight and his Ponzi scheme, say federal authorities and other observers.
IN GOOD COMPANY
Rothstein, 47, who pleaded not guilty last week to federal racketeering charges, has been compared to other masters of the Ponzi scheme -- the con man's art of paying off early investors with the contributions of later investors. The massive scale of Rothstein's scam puts him in the same infamous company as Bernard Madoff, Allen Stanford and Marc Dreier, all of whom have faced prosecution in the past year.
``All four were flashy, extravagant, ostentatious SOBs, and they all lived the good life,'' said Charles Intriago, a Miami-based money laundering expert and former federal prosecutor. ``They all preyed on rich folks who liked making the quick, big buck.''
Intriago said Rothstein displayed all the characteristics of a Ponzi schemer: claiming to have a legitimate business, offering a rare investment opportunity and dangling the prospect of riches.
He also said Rothstein displayed an oversized ego that he could not suppress -- even after his arrest and first hearing in federal court on Tuesday.
``The fact that he would go to court at his lowest moment wearing blue jeans and a pullover T-shirt is a reflection of the arrogance of this guy,'' said Intriago, President of the International Association for Asset Recovery.
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