Mega-wealthy lawyer, businessman, and political backer Scott Rothstein called me recently and told me he was the "Jewish Avenger" and was out to destroy me.
Rothstein wasn't joking during the August 25 phone call; he was seething. He told me he was going to sue me and my wife and bankrupt our household. Rothstein, managing partner of the law firm Rothstein, Rosenfeldt, Adler, said he would throw all his legal might at me until I could never "participate in the journalism community again." He even said he was going to throw a news conference about me for the TV stations.
"Most people figure if you're left alone, you'll go away," Rothstein told me August 25. "They figure they should let a sleeping dog lie. I like to jab the dog in the eye. And if it bites me, I'll jab its eye out."
Rothstein once told me he had 43 voices in his head, ranging from lawyers to businessmen to guys from the Bronx streets where he grew up. I felt like there were about five of the latter type berating me. It was sort of the phone-call version of being mugged by a gang of hooligans in Central Park.
And I wondered how Rothstein, a major political donor with vast business interests, had so much time for me. The guy had just purchased the Versace mansion. And what I had written about him in the past was fair to the point that people had remarked to me that I was soft on him, a complaint I don't often hear.
Don't worry; I didn't roll over. I told him that I didn't know who he's used to dealing with but that he couldn't bully me, that we weren't on a New York playground, and that he was acting like a small-timer. And I told him that if he wanted to come at me, he should come at me square-on but leave my wife alone.
This really isn't personal, certainly not for me, and I don't think for him either. It's about politics and money and who influences the people you elect. It's about the nature of power in Broward County, and it's about Rothstein's not wanting me to document the connections between his interests and taxpayers' money. His phone call, after all, was sparked by my conversation earlier that day with state Rep. Evan Jenne of Dania Beach.
I phoned Jenne after a little digging into Edify LLC, a health-care firm that pays him as a consultant. Rothstein is part-owner of Edify and also sits on its board of directors.
Jenne had told me in July that the companies he worked for didn't do business with the state, a statement I noted at the time on my blog, the Daily Pulp. Then I learned that Edify has two lobbyists in Tallahassee to influence state government.
When I contacted Jenne about that apparent discrepancy, he said that Edify does no business with the Legislature but that it has some interest in certain state agencies.
I also mentioned to Jenne that it seemed he was becoming increasingly linked with Rothstein, who has contributed many hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns, mostly of the GOP variety. Jenne, of course, is a Democrat.
Jenne's ties to Rothstein don't stop there. An attorney for Rothstein's law firm serves as the registered agent for Jenne's company, Blue Banyan. Rothstein hired Jenne's father, former sheriff and convicted felon Ken Jenne, to work at his law firm after Jenne was released from prison.
And one of those Edify lobbyists is Grant Smith, a lifelong friend of Evan Jenne's who works at Rothstein's law firm.
Evan Jenne told me last week that he got the $30,000 gig with Edify after randomly bumping into Edify CEO Howard Gruverman, a partner in Rothstein's firm. Jenne said he was hired to help the firm administratively and to help "chart a path" for its future. "Right now in this economy, you work where the work is," said Jenne, who previously worked for a local bank. "They needed help, and I was able to give it to them."
Edify has worked closely with the state Department of Health to develop wellness programs and also influences certain health-care legislation, lobbyist Grant Smith told me. He said the company has never had a monetary contract with the state, though he said it may try to procure one in the future.
The company does business with other governmental bodies, including the Broward County Commission and the Palm Beach County School Board (each contract is worth about $300,000 a year).
There is no indication that Jenne has done anything unethical, and he says he contacted the Florida Commission on Ethics before accepting the job. But his work for Edify was worth reporting, as was Rothstein's stake in the company and its efforts at the state level and its work with Broward governments.
A couple of hours after the Jenne call, Rothstein rang me up and quickly went on the attack.
He told me that he was aware of my call to Jenne and that he was tired of my "harming" good people, his friends, who didn't deserve it. He then said he was going to put an end to my career.
"I'm going to sue your wife, and I am going to file a suit against you," he said.
He went on a three-minute tirade, telling me he was going to basically lay my existence to waste. It was a barrage of words. The message was clear: He was going to destroy me.
I didn't take these threats kindly, especially since I had no idea why he had flown into this fit. "Are you a child?" I asked him. "You think that I can't cover you when you pour tens of thousands of dollars into local campaigns? You think I can't cover a state representative because of you?"
Then I asked him why he would sue my wife, Brittany Wallman, a reporter for the Sun-Sentinel. "She did an investigation on me, and while doing it, she did damage to me," he said.
She did a story about Rothstein's paying $1,000 a day for protection from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. But as far as I can tell, there's nothing factually wrong with it. Rothstein just seems to want to strike fear in me and other members of the press who write about him and his friends.
I sort of wish I could ignore Rothstein, but the guy has his hands in all kinds of things these days. It's hard to ignore Rothstein when he's hiring public police to guard his home. Or when he dumps money into political campaigns and holds fundraisers at his home for a presidential candidate (John McCain) or gubernatorial candidate (Charlie Crist).
He can't be ignored when his business partner, Anthony Bova, throws $150,000 into a political committee for attack ads on opponents of current Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti. Or when Rothstein teams up with infamous GOP political consultant Roger Stone, a famous dirty trickster who got his start with Richard Nixon, to help achieve his political aims or when he hires former public officials like Ken Jenne to work at his law firm.
Rothstein is a public figure not just because of his political involvement. He and Bova have been buying up restaurants around town, and they have plans to turn the famed Versace mansion into a nightclub. He's becoming a business mogul.
When I came back at him during the phone call, he suddenly calmed down and told me to do the same. Then he asked if I had any more questions about Jenne. I did, but I kept going back to the fact that he had just berated me for five minutes.
"You said you were going to sue my wife and own my house," I told him.
"No, I didn't," he said. "I told you I was going to bankrupt you. I can't get your house because of homestead laws."
I still wanted to know what he was talking about. I asked him what was factually incorrect; he wouldn't answer. I asked whom he believed I had harmed. He just started talking about his "friends" but wouldn't specify who they were.
"I'm going to take you to task for the damage you cause people," he said, before going into the bit about the sleeping dog and the poking of eyes. "You know who you have hurt. It's the death of a thousand cuts. You take them apart little by little until there's nothing left of them. Think of me as the Jewish Avenger."
I don't know what religion has to do with any of this, but I pressed him. Who was he talking about? He offered only one example.
"You have used the term 'disgraced' to describe my friend Ken Jenne over and over again," he said. "When you introduce a friend at a barbecue, do you say, 'This is my disgraced friend, Ed?' Why do you do that?"
I started to answer that Ken Jenne had violated the public trust as an elected official and that the people needed to be reminded of that. But he spoke over me and wouldn't let me get out the words. Then he asked me if I had any more questions for him. I said, "I did have a conversation with Evan Jenne, who seems like an actual human being..."
That's all he needed to hear.
"Did you just say that I'm not a human being?" he asked, seething once again. "That is the last thing you're going to say to me during this conversation and ever again. The next time you see me, it's going to be in a deposition with six lawyers."
He then became very heated, to the point that I couldn't understand him, before he called me a "mutha fucka" and hung up the phone.
Thirty seconds later, the phone rang again. It was Rothstein. Another of his voices had emerged, a nice and reasonable fellow.
"Bob, you want to try to be polite now?"
I laughed. Rothstein can be an entertaining guy, and he actually does have a sense of humor (or at least a few of those voices do). There's a reason he's risen to the prominence that he has.
He called again the next morning, this time talking in calm and resolute tones.
"I am going to sue you," he said. "You are about to see how damaging things can be. You have hurt people who don't deserve to be hurt. Maybe I am taking on things that others are afraid to. I may be too stupid to realize that what I'm about to do might cause you to write more horrific things about me and my family."
I'd never written anything horrific about him or his family. I still didn't know what he was talking about.
"I'm tired of you hunting around," he said. "You are making something of Evan Jenne. I have a financial interest in Edify, and Edify went out and hired Evan Jenne without me."
He went on to say that he has nothing to do with Edify's daily operations. Jenne said the same thing, telling me that he and Rothstein were strictly personal friends. Rothstein said he'd never spoken with Evan Jenne about the business.
"You said I was a bully. I'm an anti-bully," Rothstein said. "I have always — as a child, as a young adult — I have always taken up for people who are hurt by people with more power than them. You have a forum with which to write; you can do good, or you can do bad. The unfortunate thing is that the news media, including you, has taken a terrible turn, and I find it appalling. I am going to open up my wallet to offer legal representation to anyone who you have harmed."
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He said he would hold a news conference.
"I am starting with you and the Sun-Sentinel and a couple of other [local reporters]," he said. "When I finish, I think I will have made an important point."
If his point is that he's bigger than the First Amendment, it isn't going to work. If he has a factual issue with what I've written, I'll immediately right that situation. But if he expects no media scrutiny of him and his well-heeled friends, he's living in a dream world. He's going to get written about — and not just about the millions of dollars he's throwing at charity either.
So, yeah, he's going to attract attention, and I'm going to write about him as fairly and accurately as I can. No hard feelings. It's my job.