Rise of Fort Lauderdale attorney Scott Rothstein has town talking

Fort Lauderdale attorney Scott Rothstein is, quite literally, a high roller.

During the past couple of years, the Fort Lauderdale lawyer has owned a Hummer. And a couple of Bentleys. Maybe a Lamborghini or three. Ferraris, yes. A pair of Harleys, of course. Throw in the hum-drum BMWs, Mercedes, and Porsches and you're starting to get the picture.

Rothstein, a Republican powerhouse who has raised millions of dollars for his good friend Charlie Crist and his favorite presidential candidate John McCain, has owned a fleet of high-priced automobiles that he keeps in his air-conditioned warehouse. He's owned 21 high-priced models during the past three years that he has driven and bought and sold as a side business. But he says they were a "crappy investment," and he's now down to a paltry four automobiles — a Mercedes, a Rolls-Royce, an Escalade, and a Ferrari. A car for every occasion, you might say.

Jason Crosby

But the Ferrari seems to be more his speed. The lawyer is snapping up homes, restaurants, commercial real estate, and businesses in South Florida at a breakneck pace. And he's throwing millions of dollars around to his favorite charities and political campaigns, mostly of the GOP persuasion.

Rothstein's big-spending ways and race to the top of the Fort Lauderdale glitterati has legal and business insiders wondering: Who is this guy? Is he for real, or is he building a house of cards?

To try to help answer that question, I recently met Rothstein at his well-heeled law firm on the 16th floor of the Bank of America building in downtown Fort Lauderdale, where he oversees a group of 58 attorneys that includes numerous former judges and prosecutors. His employees also include disgraced former Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne. Rothstein hired Jenne last week, shortly after the longtime politico served a federal prison sentence for a corruption conviction.

Rothstein met me in the lobby and led me back to his glass-walled office, which has sensational views of Las Olas Boulevard and the Atlantic Ocean. Along the walls and desk were numerous framed photographs of Rothstein with Crist, Rudy Giuliani, Joe Lieberman, Bill McCollum, Dan Marino, and others.

It's a "casual Friday" at his firm, so the 46-year-old, spiky-haired Rothstein isn't wearing one of his designer Italian suits. Instead, he's wearing a designer orange shirt, blue jeans, and orange cowboy boots. He's got a compact but slightly pudgy frame and a manic energy that lends him an air of unpredictability.

"This is where the evil happens," he jokes as he gets comfortable behind his desk.

And he wastes no time addressing the idea that he's rising too fast to last and spends more money than most people could dream about.

"Look, I sleep in the bed I make," he says. "I tend toward the flashy side, but it's a persona. It's just a fucking persona."

Rothstein comes across as friendly and funny, even gregarious, but he can turn on you in an instant. He tells me, for instance, that I had better get everything I write about him correct — or else. His voice gets a little more flavor of his native Bronx, something between bravado and bully. He says that, if I write something incorrect, he'll be living with me — an allusion to a lawsuit. The flare-up is over as quickly as it started, and soon he's treating me like an old friend, telling me about the stresses of being Scott Rothstein.

"People ask me, 'When do you sleep?' " he says. "I say I'll sleep when I'm dead. I'm a true Gemini. I joke around that there are 43 people living in my head and you never know what you're going to get."

How did he come to that number?

"I counted them one day," he said. "There are some philanthropists in there, some good lawyers, and I like to think some good businessmen. There are also some guys from the streets of the Bronx that stay hidden away until I need them. Does that sound crazy? I am crazy, but crazy in a good way."

If you look at Rothstein's recent dealings, it would seem to take 43 people to pull it off. Let's start with his law firm.

After working for nearly 15 years as a lawyer in Broward in relative anonymity, he started Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler P.A. in 2002 with a stable of seven other attorneys. In less than six years, he and his partners have grown the firm to 58 lawyers, including former Boca Raton Mayor Steve Abrams and former judges like Julio Gonzalez, Bill Berger, and Barry Stone.

But that's just his day job. He also invests in residential property. In 2003, he paid $1.2 million for a waterfront house on Castilla Isle in Fort Lauderdale. He liked the upscale street on the Intracoastal so much that, two years later, he bought a neighbor's house for another $2.73 million. The neighbor: Miami Dolphins star Ricky Williams.

While living in Williams' old house, he's purchased two other homes on the street and three other homes in Broward for a total residential investment of nearly $20 million. "They call me the king of Castilla," he joked.

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