Scott Rothstein with Debra Villegas, left, and Melissa Britt Lewis, right, during a 2005 Christmas party for the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm. Lewis was murdered in 2008, and Villegas' estranged husband, Tony, is charged with the crime.
Author Aphrodite Jones outside federal courthouse
The show focuses on the Lewis murder but packs in the entire tale of Rothstein's crime in an hourlong documentary that includes riveting new video and exclusive interviews former RRA office worker Amy Howard; Lewis' mother, Lisa La Pointe; former homicide prosecutor Howard Scheinberg; former U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sloman; local attorney Tonja Haddad; and Villegas' psychologist, Lori Butts.
I watched an advance copy of the show (in which I'm interviewed as well), and can tell you it's excellent TV that captures the essence of the Rothstein madness and the sadness of Lewis' terrible death. The show thankfully doesn't try to push a conspiracy theory about the murder, though it notes speculation that it may have been tied to the Ponzi (oddly through me, though I've never subscribed to any notion that anyone but Tony Villegas committed the crime).
Catch the show if you can.
-- In the piece yesterday on the late politician-lobbyist Jack Tobin, there are clips about his bribery case. Tobin, who went from being a watch repairman to Florida political powerhouse in a few short years, was acquitted by a jury in 1984 of bribery for allegedly taking $21,000 cash from companies, including Waste Management, for his votes. It's an interesting case, but I believe the fatal flaw was that there was no proof that Tobin took the cash and the entire prosecution rested on the testimony of a former Margate commissioner named Rick Schwartz.
Inside, read a Miami Herald transcript published at the time of undercover tapes of Tobin speaking with his former boss, Ira Adelberg, a jewelry store owner who was cooperating with authorities in the case. It's classic.
THE SECRETLY RECORDED TOBIN-ADELBERG TRANSCRIPT
(Jan. 4: For the first time in years, Ira Adelberg, president of Margate Jewelers, calls his old friend and former employee, state Rep. Jack Tobin. Adelberg tells Tobin that federal prosecutors visited his store earlier that day, asking whether Tobin took payoffs as a city commissioner. What should he tell them, Adelberg asks. Unknown to Tobin, he was wearing a hidden microphone and their conversation was being recorded.)
TOBIN: First of all, you just answer any questions they ask you. You don't know nothing.
ADELBERG: Jack, the (expletive) that went on here, for Chrissake.
TOBIN: Well, what went on?
ADELBERG: They came in here and gave you money. Don't tell me -- c'mon.
TOBIN: Who came in here to give me money?
ADELBERG: The couple of envelopes that came in the door here.
TOBIN: Those were campaign contributions. Those were all checks that were given to me that were deposited in my account.
ADELBERG: What, I wrote you a check. I gave you a check for $250. I took the cash from you, and I gave you a check for $250.
TOBIN: Who was that $250 from?
ADELBERG: I don't know who the hell it was from. Someone walked in the door, gave me an envelope . . .
TOBIN: Right, but that had nothing to do with Waste Management.
ADELBERG: I don't know what it had to do -- but you said there was too much cash . . .
ADELBERG: So I gave you a check. So I don't know if they subpoenaed my records or anything.
TOBIN: Well, first of all, as far as . . . you gave me a campaign contribution. That's all they know. You gave me a campaign contribution.
(Jan. 5: Adelberg phones Tobin again, telling him that federal prosecutors plan to subpoena him to testify before a Fort Lauderdale grand jury. Tobin, who appeared before the same grand jury two months earlier, agrees to come to Adelberg's office. About 9 p.m., with his office bugged and a recording device on his body, Adelberg tells Tobin federal prosecutors are ready to break the case.)
ADELBERG: You know, you're sitting here with your (expletive) mouth shut to me. You're not saying nothing, you're not doing nothing with me. I don't know what the (expletive) is going on.
TOBIN: I don't know what you want me to tell you.
ADELBERG: I'm looking to cover my (expletive), Jack. Point blank.
TOBIN: They, they . . .
ADELBERG: If they know about this (expletive) deal over here, man.
TOBIN: I have absolutely no idea. When I went down to talk to these guys, we didn't talk about anything. I didn't talk about anything.
ADELBERG: They know there's a (expletive) payoff, Jack. Point blank.
TOBIN: They might know. I don't know. If they know, they know.
(Later the same evening, Tobin says he wonders what Liederman and Schwartz may have told federal prosecutors. He phones Schwartz from Adelberg's office to set up a meeting that night. The tape contains Tobin's side of the phone conversation with Schwartz.)
TOBIN: Hey, (unintelligible). What's going on? OK, well, there's a lot going on . . . A lot going on . . . Have you been in touch or talked to these guys at all? . . . OK, well they were here for an hour up at the jewelry store, and, uh, I'm over here now talking to Ira . . . Uh, they know a lot of stuff . . . Just what I said . . . Well, I don't think we should talk on the phone . . .
(Jan. 18: Tobin and Adelberg talk inside Margate Jewelers. Adelberg says he believes Tobin, George Liederman and Schwartz each received $5,000 for their votes on the Waste Management contract in 1979, the year Tobin was elected to the City Commission. Schwartz would later tell state prosecutors they each received $3,000 from Waste Management executive Harold Stockett. He, Tobin and Liederman each accepted $5,000 bribes from a bond underwriter and an engineering consultant, sources said.)
ADELBERG: I'd love to know how much you got out of it, though.
TOBIN: Got out of what?
ADELBERG: Out of Waste.
TOBIN: You wouldn't believe it, so there's no sense in . . .
ADELBERG: More than five?
TOBIN: Ira, that number that you got is not tied in with (inaudible).
ADELBERG: More than five grand?
ADELBERG: Less than five grand?
TOBIN: Not even close. It's not even worth talking about.
ADELBERG: Is it more or less than five grand?
TOBIN: Not even close.
ADELBERG: Which way, up or down? Less than five grand?
TOBIN: I don't know what Schwartz or Liederman did. You've got to remember something, I was the new kid on the block.
ADELBERG: I know you were a new kid on the block.
TOBIN: And they had three (expletive) votes before, whether or not I got elected, Waste Management had the contract, because Schwartz was there -- Schwartz was going to be re-elected, there was no question in anybody's mind. Liederman was there, (former Commissioner John) Zerweck was there. The only one was against it was (Commissioner Ed) Donohue. Zerweck voted for them for years. . . . Liederman was in their pocket. Schwartz was in their pocket. Donohue voted against it. Without me, they had the three votes.
ADELBERG: All right, let me ask you, how much do they pay off to, to these guys?
TOBIN: I don't know. I don't know. Because you're telling me figures, you're talking $5,000. You're saying more, less.
ADELBERG: The $5,000 is what Rick (Schwartz) told me. That's what I know.
TOBIN: That he got from Waste Management? From Waste Management, or did he tell you five thousand?
ADELBERG: Waste Management. Five grand is what he got.
TOBIN: God bless him if he got it. I did not get it. I told you that sitting in the fried-chicken place. I did not get it. These guys must have had some (expletive) deal going before I even got elected.
ADELBERG: Well, you told me you got . . .
TOBIN: That I got $5,000?
ADELBERG: No, that you told me you got from Waste Management . . .
TOBIN: Let me tell you something. These guys made deals. I'm telling you. Before I even got there. Because this thing didn't go down for three or four months after I was elected.
ADELBERG: What about the three payments you told me about?
TOBIN: Nothing to do with Waste Management. . . . Don't even talk about it. You don't need to know, because then you get called down and you got to keep yourself clean. It has nothing to do with Waste Management. That's why I'm not worried about going down there because it had nothing to do with Waste Management. If their investigation is about Waste Management, they're not going to get me on nothing. If they're going into other stuff, that's a different story. . . .
(Continuation of same conversation inside Margate Jewelers.)
ADELBERG: There's a lot of (expletive) that can be laid on you, I'm just tellin' ya.
TOBIN: Of course there is. But they got to prove it, Ira. They got to prove it. I mean, I went next door (to a savings and loan) and borrowed $8,000. I was borrowing money from people to make ends meet. That's when I had all those (expletive) problems, with (his daughter) Lauren's flights to Washington and her heart stuff. I'll show 'em bills, and I'll show 'em this stuff. If (lobbyist Jack) Cory put me down on something . . .
ADELBERG: Cory is something else. He's something else, man. Cory is something else. I'm telling you now. They're looking over him very close.
TOBIN: They've been looking over him for the last 12 to 15 years.
ADELBERG: Yeah, but all right, hey, look . . .
TOBIN: I'm just telling you what I know. I'm telling you they brought him before the Grand Jury innumerable times. I'm not looking forward to it. I'm not relishing this whole thing.
(Tobin and Adelberg walk out to the parking lot. Adelberg again says he believes Tobin, Liederman and Schwartz each received $5,000 for their votes on the 1979 Waste Management contract. Schwartz would later tell prosecutors that each man got $3,000 in exchange for voting on the $3.6-million trash- hauling contract, sources said. Schwartz also would testify that he, Tobin and Liederman each took $5,000 from lobbyist Jack Cory for a 1981 engineering consulting contract, sources said.)
ADELBERG: You mean to tell me that Waste Management gave you less than five grand?
TOBIN: Yes, sir. Much less. And these guys, if these guys got five grand each . . . then these guys had a (expletive) deal. That five thousand that Rick (Schwartz) told you had nothing to do with Waste Management.
ADELBERG: That five grand . . .
TOBIN: That was for something else, and that's what Cory was involved in. It had nothing to do with Waste Management, I'm telling you.
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