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The Republican Party of Florida attacked former Gov. Charlie Crist in a TV ad alleging that he let Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein pick judicial appointments in exchange for campaign donations.
Crist’s campaign fired back with its own ad Aug. 18 that included a slew of attacks on Scott, including this one:
"Now he’s teamed up with a felon convicted of running a Ponzi scheme to smear Charlie Crist with false attacks."
The text on the screen states "Rothstein gets 50 years in $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme."
Crist’s ad shows a photo of a grinning Rothstein wearing luxury watches and attributes that to an ABC News story from June 2010 when Rothstein was convicted. The Republicans’ ad about Rothstein used the same image.
While the photo of Rothstein remains on the screen, the text of the ad says: "Scott Rothstein bought expensive things" and then the text on the screen says "FALSE ATTACKS." (The small print refers to a Sun-Sentinel article about an auction of Rothstein's possessions.)
That’s a whole lot of Rothstein mash-up going on for viewers.
For nearly five years, media reports have outlined how Rothstein donated generously to a long list of politicians including Crist. But this was the first we had heard of an allegation about Scott teaming up with Rothstein, so we decided to check it out.
In fact, there is no evidence that Scott and Rothstein have literally "teamed up" -- what Crist is referring to is the Republican Party using the Rothstein scandal to attack Crist. The evidence that Crist cited in his ad backup was simply a news report about Rothstein’s conviction.
"Ponzi schemer's words + Rick Scott's money = teaming up," Brendan Gilfillan told PolitiFact Florida in an email.
Here’s the backstory on Rothstein’s connection to Crist: Rothstein was a big campaign donor to Crist and the Republican Party back when Crist was still a Republican. And Crist did put Rothstein on a panel that recommended some appeals court judges. Rothstein testified that he gave money and in exchange directed Crist’s judicial picks to the appeals bench in West Palm Beach and the Broward bench.
However, we found no hard evidence that proved Rothstein dictated Crist’s picks, so we rated that claim Half True.
Rothstein exited Florida politics, and then Scott entered
As soon as the news surfaced about the investigation into Rothstein, the long line of politicians and political entities opening their arms to receive his donations screeched to a halt. In fact, many of them gave the money back.
Scott had the good fortune to avoid Rothstein due to his timing: He entered his first race for governor in April 2010. By that date, Rothstein was behind bars and no longer a mega-campaign donor.
Federal authorities revealed they were investigating Rothstein’s scheme in November 2009 and arrested him Dec. 1, 2009. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison in June 2010.
Rothstein and his firm had given generously to candidates and politicians in both parties: as much as $3 million to local, state, federal candidates and political entities between 2005 and 2009. That included donations to Crist, the Republican Party of Florida and the Florida Democratic Party.
So where was Scott during Rothstein’s scheme?
Scott was a Republican millionaire businessman in Naples who built his career around the health care industry. Scott was forced out of the company he formed, Columbia/HCA, in 1997 amid lawsuits over Medicare billing practices that ultimately led to a $1.7 billion federal fine. In 2001, Scott cofounded Solantic Corp., a chain of walk-in urgent care centers he would later sell after he became governor. In 2009, Scott used $5 million of his own money to form Conservatives for Patients Rights to fight Obama’s health care reform. In 2010, he ran for governor.
We asked Scott's campaign if Scott had ever crossed paths with Rothstein and did not get a response, but we could find no evidence that they had ever met.
Crist’s TV ad says Rick Scott has "teamed up with a felon convicted of running a Ponzi scheme to smear Charlie Crist with false attacks."
This ad is vague and confusing. Scott hasn’t teamed up with Ponzi schemer Rothstein -- he was arrested in December 2009 and Scott entered his first race for governor in April 2010.
The only kind of teaming up that happened is that the Republican Party of Florida made a TV ad attacking Crist for his connections to Rothstein in an ad that PolitiFact Florida rated Half True.
Teaming up implies that Scott and Rothstein are in cahoots, and we’re not aware of any evidence that they crossed paths. When Scott announced his first campaign in April 2010, Rothstein had already been arrested and was awaiting sentencing.
We rate this claim False.
Charlie Crist campaign, "Smears" TV ad, Aug. 17, 2014
Tampa Bay Times, "Governor Rick Scott finalizes deal to sell holdings in urgent care chain Solantic," April 13, 2011
PolitiFact, "Republican ad says Scott Rothstein bought Charlie Crist’s judicial appointments," Aug. 25, 2014
Interview, Brendan Gilfillan, spokesman for Charlie Crist’s campaign, Aug. 27, 2014
Republican Party of Florida, "For sale" TV ad, Aug. 18, 2014
U.S. Court District of Florida, Scott Rothstein transcript in the Christina Kitterman trial, February 2014
Florida Division of Elections, State campaign finance records, 2006-2009
Federal Election Commission, Campaign finance records, 2006-2009
Center for Responsive Politics, Charlie Crist Top 100 Contributors, 2009-10
Gov. Rick Scott, Judicial Nominating Commission, Accessed Aug. 21, 2014
Palm Beach Post, "Ponzi schemer Rothstein: wooing politicians, including Crist and McCain, key to success," Feb. 5, 2014
CBS4, "Scott Rothstein wraps up testimony in trial of former employee," Feb. 6, 2014
Broward/Palm Beach New Times The Daily Pulp blog, "Rothstein’s castle (and throne)," Nov. 19, 2009
Broward/Palm Beach New Times, "Rothstein dealings with Broward health raise questions about judicial appointment," Nov. 18, 2009
Sun-Sentinel, "Rothstein auction of exotic cars and luxury yachts live," June 2010
Browardbeat.com, "Rothstein hires two defeated judges, but one got away," Jan. 4, 2009
Miami Herald, "Ponzi schemer Rothstein’s former partner pleads guilty in Miami," June 11, 2014
Miami Herald, "Rothstein describes the inner workings of his swindle," Feb. 5, 2014
Miami Herald Naked Politics blog, "Photo: the 52k Ponzi cake for Charlie Crist’s B’day," Nov. 6, 2009
Miami Herald Naked Politics blog, "Florida Supreme Court disbars Scott Rothstein," Nov. 25, 2009
Miami Herald, "Lawyer Scott Rothstein: The rise and fall of a wheeler dealer," Accessed in Nexis, Nov. 8., 2009
Miami Herald, "Rothstein `fraud' funded campaign donations," Dec. 2, 2009
Miami Herald editorial board, "Herald recommends Broward County Circuit court," Accessed in Nexis, Aug. 13, 2010
Tampa Bay Times, "FSU frat brothers giving Crist a fundraising boost," Accessed in Nexis, July 23, 2006
Tampa Bay Times The Buzz blog, "Weeks later, Crist boots Rothstein from judicial commish," Nov. 24, 2009
Tampa Bay Times The Buzz blog, "Maurice Ferre calls for Crist/Rothstein investigation," Dec. 1, 2009
Sun-Sentinel, "Key dates and data in the life and career of attorney Scott Rothstein," Accessed in Nexis, Nov. 9, 2009
Sun-Sentinel, "Inside the world of Scott Rothstein,"Accessed Aug. 21, 2014
Sun-Sentinel, Database: Scott Rothstein’s political donations, 2006-09
Sun-Sentinel, "Crist taps pair for judgeships," Jan. 29, 2009
Sun-Sentinel, "Crist had ‘no reason’ to suspect Rothstein," Dec. 18, 2009
Sun-Sentinel, "Rothstein said ex-employee Kitterman was ‘in the game," Feb. 6, 2014
Sun-Sentinel, "The laws of diversity: minorities underrepresented in polarized Broward judiciary," Accessed in Nexis, Nov. 9, 2008
Sun-Sentinel," 20 candidates vying for county court seats," Accessed in Nexis, Aug. 7, 2010
Shark Tank blog, "Charlie Crist discusses GOP ad attacking his past friendship with Ponzi-schemer,"Aug. 20, 2014
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