Once Kim Wendell moved into Scott Rothstein's $2.7 milllion house in the summer of 2005, she began to realize just how much her independent and at times rambling life was about to change.
This was a girl who was basically on her own at the age of 16, when she moved into the home of her best friend after her parents split up. "My parents were both very Bohemian, hippie, earthy, crunchy," she says. "I was a very responsible person. My dad found someone, my mom found someone, and I was stuck out there."
But once she became engaged to Rothstein and moved into his Castilla Isle home, all that changed.
"I don't want to quote Wall Street, but he was the sun, the planets," she said. "He felt that he was master of the universe. That was his state at all times. And I'm used to having control over my life, over my world. For someone to come in and say, 'I don't want you to bartend,' then he would buy me clothes and he would want me to wear these things. He became like my, I don't know, my stylist? He went shopping for me. I never shopped before I met him. I hated the mall. And he would go out shopping for me. I would say, 'Does that make you happy for me to wear this? OK, we're all happy now.'
"I just wanted to be loved for me, but he was in a position where he had to
She came back a different person, say those who knew her. Kim stopped drinking and became, for all outward appearances, the perfect wife. Rumors abounded that she had gone for rehab for possible drug and alcohol abuse. She says that she's never been to rehab in her life. She concedes that she drank a little too much before she left for North Carolina, but says it wasn't any more than other socialite wives did. And she said she has never had a drug problem and doesn't have an addictive personality.
"You don't want to be the drunken wife passing out on the governor," she says. "You have to understand that most of these women, they like their liquor. I didn't want to be the woman who lost her shoes. That really did happen once. Not that I didn't want to drink at these events. It was like torture at some of them waiting for them to end. I was like, 'Is True Blood on? I want to go.'"
She says she did, however, enjoy helping charities. She began to cry when she spoke about the fact that the charities now have to give the money back. "The Joe Dimaggio Children's Hospital, ovarian cancer," she said with tears streaming down her face. "When you think that you are doing something good, helping kids, it broke my heart."
Another aspect of settling down for Kim was in her spiritual life, which was always important to her.
Kim says she tapped into her own spiritual side after her young career as a karate star -- newspaper clippings show that she wowed audiences and won state and national championships -- was cut short by a serious medical condition called arterial-venous malformation. The blood vessels in her brain were oversized, causing her seizures, headaches, and other problems.
Her mother introduced her to Wicca, or witchcraft, and she says she studied that and numerous religions, including Christianity and Buddhism. At one point, she even became an "ordained minister" of a makeshift Coral Springs-based religion called the "Universal Brotherhood Movement," which is based on a "philosphy of nonjudgment and unconditional love."
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She says that through "alternative methods of healing" she was able to wean herself from the seizure medication as a teenager. After graduating from South Plantation High School, Kim attended Broward Community College, where she studied sports medicine. But that was cut short when she had a "brain bleed" at the age of 20. "They thought I was going to die," she says. "And it was inoperable. It was in the speech area of the brain and there was less than a 10 percent chance of getting through surgery without any defects. I went for surgery and it was miraculous. It was flawless."
She was cured, but now she was saddled with medical debt and she didn't complete her studies. She worked at her mother's new age store and embarked on her bartending career. But she says she always kept her spiritual studies going. When she was engaged with Rothstein, part of "walking the path" was converting to his religion, Judaism. She studied the religion for a year, which she says is one reason their engagement lasted so long. She also had a mikvah performed, the Jewish equivalent of a baptism.
They were married at Casa Casuarina over a weekend that reportedly cost Rothstein $1 million. At the wedding, famously, was Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. "He's a character," she said of Crist. "I liked him. He's a guy that's supercharming. He was so excited all the time. Everything out of his mouth, he was excited, no matter what it was. He would be like, 'I just ate a piece of bread!' "
She would spend a lot of time with Crist and a multitude of other high-rolling politicos and celebrities. She says she knew nothing of her husband's Ponzi scheme, but she was along for the ride as his life began to spin out of control.