Bad people come in all shapes, sizes, and sexes. They can be seemingly pious grandmothers. They can be smug, vindictive lawyers. They can be irresponsible rich jerks, gold-digging hookers, or corrupt cops on the beat. In any given strata of society, a few people are always willing — in some cases, desperate — to hurt others, all for money or power or sex or even sheer complacency. With all of its scandals, scams, sleazebags, and world-class debauchery, South Florida has more bad guys per capita than anywhere else in the country.
So it takes quite the villainous résumé to make the our annual Dirty Dozen list. We're talkin' the kind of bad that makes you sigh and shake your head and wonder about the fate of humanity. This year, we have plenty of your standard nightmare material: an accused child molester and rapist, a would-be femme fatale, and an expensive sports car covered in blood. Plus, where would we be without a healthy dose of politicians on the take? (Certainly not in South Florida.) And in this period of extended economic woe, we chronicle sordid tales of epic greed that made Ponzi scheme a household term.
For your convenience, we've rated the bad guys from one to ten on our special Dirt Meter, distinguishing mere malefactor from pure monster.
The most intriguing dirtbag of this year has definitely been Scott Rothstein, the fast-talking, flashy, high-powered attorney who is alleged to have funded his massive political contributions (more than $2 million), his employees' high salaries, and his ostentatious lifestyle with a colossal billion-dollar Ponzi scheme. At his peak, Rothstein mingled with athletes, celebrities, and the most powerful Republicans in the country (including President George W. Bush). His vast empire included restaurants, a law firm stacked with high-profile attorneys, his name on huge ads at Dolphin Stadium, enormous contributions to local Jewish charities, private jets, a yacht, and a fleet of exotic cars worth millions of dollars.
Even before the empire crumbled, though, Rothstein was a grade-A schmuck. He claimed to have "43 voices" in his head, and many of them bullied anyone he perceived as an enemy. Rothstein surrounded himself with corrupt political friends, at least one mistress, a team of armed bodyguards who were quick to violence, and a web of lies nobody will ever completely unravel. He worked hard to cultivate the image of a hard-charging man of the world who was not to be fooled with.
But in October, everything fell apart. Rothstein's coffers were empty, and the FBI was closing in. Rothstein sent an email to attorneys in his firm asking them which countries won't extradite criminal suspects to the United States and, upon receiving answers, subsequently wired $16 million and hopped a private jet to Morocco. He sent a self-indulgent mass text message that suggested he might be considering suicide. After Stuart Rosenfeldt, his law firm partner, urged him not to kill himself, Rothstein returned to the United States and surrendered to FBI agents. Like a hurricane of deception and licentiousness, Rothstein left an entire region of politicians, lawyers, judges, wealthy legal clients, and bilked investors with a lot of questions and a lot of empty bank accounts. Also, his eyes are too close together.
Dirt Meter: 10 (Hands-down dirtbag of the year.)
As far as slimy, horrible, nightmare-teacher stories go, Heath Miller's is among the worst. The 34-year-old middle-school band director in Palm Beach Gardens didn't just have sex with a student. He allegedly had sex with several, maybe dozens over a period of years. More than ten female students have told police that Miller had unprotected sex with them or touched them inappropriately. Many of the girls say they were hesitant to come forward because the charismatic teacher was so beloved at Watkins Middle School. Just two years ago, Miller was voted most popular teacher. Parents say he was very effective in the classroom, though it seems his best skills were as a predator.
In April, Miller's dark side was exposed after he removed one girl from her remedial reading glass and allegedly raped her. A few days later, as the student sat crying in a guidance counselor's office, Miller barged in and insisted the counselor leave the room. The counselor refused. After an investigation was launched, several female teachers at the school informed police that they too had sex with Miller. There were rumors of more than one teacher-filled ménage à trois. Some relationships involved sex in the band uniform room. Some were consensual. But at least one teacher says she was raped. Several students also say Miller has pressured them not to cooperate with police.
In a twist that still seems mysterious, Miller had first made headlines in February, two months before the sexual allegations emerged. He shot and killed a masked man who'd broken into his house one morning.