Young Andrew Perez is a bit like the canary in the coal mine. The Plantation native was hired three years ago, as an 18-year-old intern at Rothstein Rosenfeldt & Adler, working there for the past three summers. He swears he once remarked to another associate at the firm that he "wouldn't be surprised" if it turned out Rothstein was running a Ponzi scheme.
Now Perez is predicting oblivion of a different kind for another major Broward County player: Fort Lauderdale native George LeMieux, a U.S. Senator since this fall when he was appointed by Rothstein's buddy Crist.
For some time, we've known that there was something sneaky about LeMieux's move in December 2007 from his position as Crist's chief of staff to the chairmanship of the law firm Gunster Yoakley. The St. Pete Times described the potential conflicts in this article from February 2008.
LeMieux was working at the governor's office on December 20, when Gunster Yoakley landed a half-million dollar
contract with the state Department of Transportation to advise it in its dealings with the Florida East Coast Railroad, which was willing to give the state its rails for use by a commuter train -- for a price.
LeMieux has denied that he had anything to do with steering that contract to Gunster Yoakley, and the state official who selected the firm says the same. That would be Alexis Yarbrough, FDOT's general counsel. Who also happens to be the wife of Crist's current chief of staff, Shane Strum, LeMieux's former deputy. Not that Strum and his wife owe LeMieux any favors for helping Strum get that job, right?
But Perez has discovered an even more blatant conflict of interest. As recently as August 2008 -- some eight months after LeMieux began negotiating with Florida East Coast Railroad on the state's behalf -- that railroad's parent company Florida East Coast Industries was listed as a client of Gunster Yoakley.
In other words, LeMieux may have been representing both Florida taxpayers and one of his firm's major clients. A clear conflict -- and it's hard to imagine taxpayers winning that battle for LeMieux's loyalty. At least hundreds of millions of tax dollars were at stake. Tax dollars paid LeMieux for that work at the rate of $500-per-hour.
As Perez notes in his most recent blog post, from Monday, Gunster Yoakley has said that it had stopped representing the railroad's parent company two years before negotiations began with the state.
Of course, LeMieux is no longer negotiating a possible deal between the state and the railroad, but the conflict is the same for anyone at Gunster Yoakley.
It's a shame that Perez's articles have gotten lost in a noisy blogosphere. "I haven't been able to gauge any big impact so far," says Perez, who called today from Washington D.C. He's studying at George Washington University. I asked him what got him interested in LeMieux. "I'm a liberal," he says.
Which is why it's ironic that one of Perez's biggest supporters is Roger Stone, the Republican political trickster who also worked at Rothstein's firm, though the two met there just briefly. They didn't know how much they had in common till they both went public with their distrust of LeMieux. Stone's contempt for the "Little Frenchman," as he calls LeMieux, was part of what led to the end of his association with Rothstein.