Michael Rosen remembers standing in the elevator when he was just 3 or 4 years old. He was with his mother in their condo building, and several adults beamed at him, talking about how cute he was.
He looked up and told them, "Go fuck yourself."
Rosen winces at the memory. He's 38 now, a hotel executive in Miami and the married father of a baby girl, and he's still trying to come to grips with his bizarre and chaotic childhood. He wasn't just a kid who happened to pick up some curse words; the scene was all but planned.
His stepdad, who raised him from age 3, taught him those words. In fact, he fed young Michael vulgarities and obscenities like perverse candy. And that was only the beginning. There was also pornography, prostitutes, federal investigations, lawsuits, and rumors swirling that his dad was a criminal.
He knows now that the rumors were true. Rosen's stepfather was Joel Steinger, the man behind the billion-dollar Mutual Benefits Corp. Ponzi scheme. Rosen's been reading about Steinger's outrageous exploits in the media, including the incredible magnitude of his fraud and his virtual purchase of the Florida Legislature. He eagerly awaits the man's federal fraud trial in Miami.
But before Steinger became infamous, Rosen just knew him as "Dad." And the memories still haunt him.
About the time of the elevator incident, Rosen remembers riding in Steinger's Lincoln through a seedy section of Miami when the man he called Dad pulled up next to a prostitute on the street.
"How much for a blowjob for this kid?" Steinger yelled out.
Rosen says the comment prompted an immediate slap to his dad's face from his mother, who was riding in the passenger seat. But that bit of retribution didn't slow his father.
By the time Rosen was 7, Steinger was showing his stepson pornography on an early Betamax video player. Rosen recalls another of his dad's cars, a Cadillac, that was equipped with a makeshift public address system. As his father drove around town, he would amuse himself by having Rosen sit on his lap and tell him exceptionally obscene curses to yell at people walking along the street.
When Rosen was still in grade school, he saw his dad on television. It was an episode of 60 Minutes, and the subject was a Miami-based securities scam that led to a felony fraud conviction for his father. Rosen remembers fighting another kid at school who said his dad was a crook.
So many process servers came to the house that he was taught never to answer the door. It might be a subpoena to testify in a criminal investigation or the filing of a civil lawsuit against Steinger.
Somehow, though, the elder man stayed out of prison and kept raising his stepson. When Rosen had his bar mitzvah at the Jockey Club in Miami, his father led him to a room where a prostitute was waiting. That was the day Rosen lost his virginity. He knew it wasn't right and says he didn't want to do it, but he was afraid Steinger would belittle him if he didn't go through with it.
Rosen says Steinger spent all of his days in telephone boiler rooms smoking cigarettes, drinking whiskey, and cheating on Rosen's mother. He went from one scam to another, selling bogus commodities, fake diet pizza, whatever he could come up with. And when Steinger was home, he would verbally abuse the boy and his mother, often calling her the c word. Looking back, he realizes his father lacked all form of affection — and he grew up thinking this swaggering, vulgar, criminal existence was normal.
In his 20s, Rosen says, he acted like his father, like an animal. It wasn't until his own marriage went into a tailspin that he realized he needed help. After years of therapy, he has largely gotten past his stepfather, whom he hasn't spoken to in 17 years. He makes a point never to curse in front of his young daughter.
But he's still fighting his past, especially because his stepfather is all over the news these days after masterminding one of the largest scams in Florida history.
Rosen hopes that this time, Steinger is thrown in prison for the rest of his days.
"I've known for years that this man was scum," says Rosen. "I want him to finally be stopped, and I'll do anything I can to help make that happen."
Rosen represents just a tiny bit of the incredible human and financial wreckage Steinger has left in his ugly wake. He has destroyed the lives of friends, relatives, and countless strangers alike. He should have been stopped more than 25 years ago, when he perpetrated the scam that landed him on 60 Minutes.
Some believe that the secret to Steinger's stunningly long life of crime has been his pumping millions into the political process. But long before he secured any help from powerful political friends like former state Sen. Steve Geller and lobbyist Russ Klenet, he had the help of a largely hidden force: the so-called Jewish Mafia, a distinction that has nothing to do with the religion and everything to do with vast Mob profits.