It's like the Broward scandal sheet version of Godzilla meets Rodan.
UPDATED: A source tells me there was a meeting of camps between monster Ponzi schemers Scott Rothstein and Joel Steinger. Steinger sends word to me that it never happened. But whether it did or not, I think it's time to compare the two men, namely to determine which is greatest villain.
Steinger, of course, was the man behind the Mutual Benefits Corporation, the gigantic fraud that bought insurance policies from AIDS patients. Steinger is now living in his mansion on the New River while awaiting federal fraud and money laundering charges. (And people are upset that Rothstein is out smoking cigars and drinking martinis -- yesterday he supposedly had lunch with Kimberly).
Let's look at the similarities and differences between the two men and decide which is the most diabolical:
-- Rothstein stole his money from a small pool of rich society types, clients, and friends looking to make big turnarounds on large sums of money. Dude definitely stole from the rich. Steinger, on the other hand, ripped off his money from
hundreds and hundreds of regular hard-working folks across the country looking to make a large return on their savings. Some of the stories are heartbreaking with retired couples losing everything they had. Steinger's villanous ways win handily here. Steinger +1
-- Both men courted Charlie Crist with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash. The difference was that Rothstein did it face to face, creating a trail of photographic evidence to show how chummy he was with the governor. Steinger, because he was already a convicted felon known to be under state investigation, had to use an intermediary, GOP fundraiser and Crist buddy Alan Mendelsohn, who has also been hit with federal charges. Rothstein seemed to have wooed Crist mainly to bolster his image to help lure in the suckers he was bilking, though he also apparently tried to use his influence with Crist to get a break for an accused swindler he was representing, infomercial guru Russ Whitney. For Steinger, it was all about business. Through Mendelsohn, he wanted to bribe Crist, then Attorney General, to stop the state investigation of himself and MBC. On the Crist angle, I have to give the edge to Rothstein, for sheer brazenness. Rothstein +1
-- Both also had ties to numerous local politicians and did wonderful jobs exposing the rampant culture of corruption in Broward County. Rothstein kept close with Sheriff Al Lamberti (though he crossed him when he pumped $170,000 into Scott Israel's campaign via Stuart Rosenfeldt and David Boden). He sponsored Broward Mayor Stacy Ritter's recent Mayoral Ball with $50,000, gave a lot of money to politicos like Steve Geller and state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff and many others. Geller, incidentally, is central nexus between Rothstein and Steinger. The former state senator and current Broward commission candidate was tight with both men, a close friend with Steinger who more lately became friendly enough with Rothstein to gift him the Jewish Avenger suit. It was Geller who introduced Steinger to lobbyist Russell Klenet, the husband of Mayor Ritter. Steinger used $100,000 of his ill-begotten loot to renovate the mayor's home. Steinger also had Ken Keechl, prior to his becoming a county commissioner, working for him as a lawyer to help fend off his fraud victims. I have a feeling Rothstein will ultimately outdo Steinger in terms of bringing down local politicians, but right now, the edge goes to Steinger for Ritter's grand piano alone. Steinger +1
-- So what about their lives before the Ponzi schemes? Rothstein was an attorney, specializing in employment law, for about 15 years in town prior to crime spree. And from what I hear he was a pretty good one. Steinger, on the other hand, seems to have been born to be a con artist, getting his start with organized crime figures, including Meyer Lansky, about three decades ago. He's been involved with one scam after another during all those years, selling fake commodities, fake diet pizza, and fake oil wells among other things. In short, Rothstein was actually legitimate at one point. Steinger never was, which sort of makes him what is called an honest thief. Rothstein's dramatic turn to the dark side earns him this one. Rothstein +1.
-- Let's talk damage to the local economy. Rothstein's collapse is going to affect a slew of businesses, including his 70-member law firm, the Versace mansion (where more than 50 employees lost their jobs when he imploded), local restaurants, and others. It's like wrecking ball. Steinger's fall really only meant the end of MBC. Rothstein +1.
-- When you are trying to influence people to give you money, it's important to win big-name friends. So who had the more famous friends? Well, when you look at Steinger, you have to point to one of his best buds, famed Washington attorney Richard Ben-Veniste, who played roles in Watergate, the Clinton impeachment, and served on the 911 Commission. Then you have Al Malnik, a fabulously wealthy organized crime figure and owner of The Forge restaurant in Miami. Malnik's latest claim to fame was his rather dicey relationship with the late Michael Jackson. He's also like a second father to big Hollywood producer and director Brett Ratner. Other than Ben-Veniste and Malnik, it's a shallow pool for Steinger. Rothstein's Big Friend was Dan Marino, whom he shared a billboard with and socialized with on numerous occasions. As mentioned, he was also friends with Charlie Crist and had soirees with John McCain, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Arlen Specter, Dwyane Wade, Ronnie Brown, and others. Oddly, he even has a couple photographs of comic and game show host Howie Mandel in his office. Rothstein +1.
-- Then of course you have the money game. Steinger ripped off more than $800 million with MBC, but the company raised more than $1.6 billion in its existence. Right now it looks like Rothstein stole about $500 million, maybe $600 million, and raised a total of about a billion. That gives the edge to Steinger. Steinger +1.
Final Score: Rothstein 4, Steinger 3
For his victory Rothstein doesn't win Tokyo, but he earns the label of the most notorious man in Broward County history.