Rise of Fort Lauderdale attorney Scott Rothstein has town talking

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While living in Williams' old house, he's purchased two other homes on the street and three other homes in Broward for a total residential investment of nearly $20 million. "They call me the king of Castilla," he joked.

Sharing the home with him is his pretty, blond second wife, Kimberly Wendell Rothstein, a 34-year-old real-estate agent who helps manage his properties, which also include part-ownership of an office building in Pompano Beach. To give you an idea about that flashy persona, consider that when they married on January 26, he rented out the Versace mansion on South Beach for three days. He threw a white party there that was attended by Crist and his fiancée, Carol Rome. Rumors abound that the wedding ran into the mid-six figures, although Rothstein won't say how much it cost.

He has also been snapping up area restaurants with partner Anthony Bova, a well-known Boca Raton restaurateur. In addition to two restaurants — Bova Ristorante and Mario's of Boca — the partnership recently bought Riley McDermott's steak house on Las Olas Boulevard; it will soon be called Bova Prime. He says he plans to dine there every day and hold court with local politicians, lawyers, and business associates.

Rothstein has myriad other business interests. He owns parts of an internet technology called company Qtask as well as V Georgio Vodka, and the Renato watch company (he has a personal collection of several hundred watches). He's working on opening a cigar and martini bar on Las Olas and two high-rise residential buildings in Brooklyn with New York partner Dominic Tonnachio. He says he's also about to close on a "series of office buildings" on Oakland Park Boulevard. He is pulling all of this off despite a credit crisis and one of the greatest economic downturns in history.

In addition to law and business, Rothstein is all over politics. Rothstein, his business partners, and his law firm have flooded national, state, and local campaigns with hundreds of thousands of dollars, including more than $200,000 to the Florida Republican Party during the past couple of years alone. He says he has raised more than $2 million for the Republican Party in the past year.

To bolster his political acumen, Rothstein recently partnered with operative Roger Stone, the famed dirty trickster who got his start working for Richard Nixon's campaigns. Stone quickly met with controversy for his role in an ad campaign targeting sheriff's candidate Scott Israel, who is challenging Republican Sheriff Al Lamberti, a Crist appointee supported by Rothstein. Though the committee that conducted the campaign was funded by his partner Bova, Rothstein says he had nothing to do with the attack on Israel.

Rothstein says he considers Crist to be one of his "closest friends" and has had Republican presidential nominee John McCain over to his home for fundraisers, earning a spot on McCain's "Kitchen Cabinet." Guest lists for his fundraisers have included U.S. senators Arlen Specter, Mel Martinez, and Lieberman. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to visit his home for a fundraiser this Friday, October 17.

And finally, there's charity. Rothstein says he's given $2 million in the past year to favorite causes like the American Heart Association, Women in Distress, Alonzo Mourning Charities, Here's Help, and the Dan Marino Foundation. Just last week, he gave Holy Cross Hospital a $1 million contribution from his Rothstein Family Foundation. For that, he'll have a lobby in the medical center named for him and his wife.

He wasn't always flowing in riches. Rothstein tells me about growing up in the Bronx in an apartment so cramped that he shared a bedroom with his sister. His father was a salesman "back in the days when you carried a bag up and down the streets of New York." The family moved to Florida in 1978, when Rothstein was 16. He says his grandmother, the family's now-97-year-old matriarch, used her life savings to help put him through the University of Florida and law school at Nova.

"I grew up poor," he says. "I'm a lunatic about money. Debra Villegas handles all my finances."

Villegas is the law firm's chief operating officer. You may remember her name from one of the year's most highly publicized crimes: the murder in Plantation of Melissa Britt Lewis, who was a partner in Rothstein's firm. Villegas' estranged husband, Tony Villegas, was charged in Lewis' murder. "As far as I'm concerned," Rothstein says, "he should die in the chair or die in jail."

Rothstein says that as a result of the homicide and the nature of the legal business, he's hired a team of "executive protection specialists" to guard the firm and his family — which includes a 15-year-old daughter whose mother was an old friend.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman