Trickster in Chief

Famed political hit man Roger Stone takes a special interest in would-be Broward Sheriff Scott Israel

The assault on Scott Israel, a man who very well might be Broward County's next sheriff, came fast and furious a week before Election Day.

First came mailers comparing Israel to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for changing his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat before filing to run in last week's primary.

Then came the Tricky Dick videos, which were both emailed en masse and put up on YouTube. One of the campaign ads has a photoshopped version of Richard Nixon talking in front of the White House.

Tricky Dick weighs in on the sheriff's campaign.
AFP Photo/Newscom
Tricky Dick weighs in on the sheriff's campaign.

"This is President Richard Milhouse Nixon with an important message for Broward County Democrats," dubs a topnotch Nixon impersonator. "Scott Israel is a good man. In fact, he was a Republican only months ago. He's really one of us, you see... Scott Israel is my kind of guy, a real operator. And just like me, he is not a crook."

Other videos feature George W. Bush ("I like to think Scott Israel is a Bush Republican at heart... God bless Scott Israel"), a heavily lisping Rudy Giuliani ("Scott Israel reminds me of my ex-partner Bernie Kerik: Shoot first, ask questions later"), and Pat Robertson ("Pray for brother Scott Israel").

The ads targeting Israel were both well-made and funny. That isn't surprising when you consider who was behind them: none other than America's dirty trickster in chief, Roger Stone.

Several sources have confirmed that Stone, the famed Republican electioneering hit man who began his career as an operative for Richard Nixon, put together the anti-Israel campaign for a local political committee with the deliciously ironic name of the Broward Coalition for Justice & Equality.

Scott Rothstein, a Stone partner and head of the GOP heavyweight Fort Lauderdale law firm where Stone has an office, acknowledged as much.

"I can tell you without a doubt that Roger Stone was involved in that campaign," said Rothstein, managing partner of Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler and friend and major fundraiser for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Republican presidential contender John McCain.

Stone's campaign dealt a blow to Israel's support, but it wasn't quite enough to knock him out of the winner's circle. He barely survived a late surge by candidate Richard Lemack to earn the right to challenge Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti, a Republican appointed to the post by Crist, in the November election.

The ads were classic Stone. While some of the attacks were perfectly legitimate (Israel did switch parties, after all), the operative couldn't resist stretching it a bit when it came to the candidate's history of using force as a police officer in Fort Lauderdale.

But if the primary was any indication, Israel will have a lot more negative ads to contend with. Because this campaign had little to do with Lemack and everything to do with Lamberti.

The connections are obvious. The bulk of the money used in Stone's campaign was contributed by a company owned by longtime Boca Raton restaurateur Anthony Bova. The operator of Bova Ristorante and Mario's of Boca gave $150,000 to the Broward Coalition for Justice & Equality. In total, the committee raised $180,000.

Bova has no history in politics in Broward or statewide. His only obvious connection to Stone and Broward politics is a business partnership with Stone's partner Rothstein.

Rothstein is no lightweight. He and his law firm have contributed about $150,000 to the Florida Republican Party in just the past two years. He's a friend of McCain's, who has titled him an "Innovator" for raising more than $250,000 for his campaign and counts him among his informal "Kitchen Cabinet."

And he's especially close to Crist, who has a vested interest in seeing Lamberti elected and who just last week appointed Rothstein to the Judicial Nominating Commission.

Rothstein, however, adamantly denies any involvement with the Broward Coalition for Justice & Equality.

"If a Democrat wants to say I'm a Republican scumbag, fine, but don't say that I have anything to do with what Bova was doing," Rothstein told me. "That was totally unrelated to us. And if somebody slanders my law firm, there will be hell to pay."

I told Rothstein that it made little sense to me that Bova, who didn't return my phone calls, would suddenly jump into Broward politics.

"Tony Bova had his eyes on getting involved in restaurants in Broward County before he and I were partners," Rothstein tried to explain. "He asked me, 'How do I get in? Who do I need to support.' I told him that you want to make sure you have an excellent relationship with the County Commission, the city governance, and an excellent relationship with any police department that controls any area where you are going to do business.

"My guess is that you will see him heavily involved in political races in the future."

Even that made no sense to me. Usually, when a business owner wants to make an impression, he'll go to a fundraiser, bundle up a couple of $500 contributions, try to make a good impression on the politician involved, and call it a day.

But here, Bova was gambling $150,000 on a secretive committee (it's next to impossible to figure out who really runs the thing) that was operating in a primary race.

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