Evidence Cries Out for Probe of Charlie Crist's Judgeship Tradeaways
Around the State
Mounting evidence -- in fact, puzzle pieces hiding in plain sight -- supports an investigation of Charlie Crist for criminal misconduct while he served as governor of Florida.
Unfortunately, if anybody in authority has the state's former chief executive under a microscope, it's a better-kept secret than the national launch code.
They're right there. All on record. They're in December 2009 editions of The Miami Herald, the Broward/Palm Beach New Times and the Daily Kos. All of these newspapers were writing about then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist trading judgeships for political contributons.
And they did more than hurl accusations. They connected the dots -- names of appointees, dates and amount of money changing hands. I can't find anyone who can explain to me why the governor didn't come under investigation immediately after those news stories.
No wonder heading into 2010, Charlie wanted out of Tallahassee so badly.
"Quid pro quo" is exactly what Rothstein testified under oath: Campaign contributions in exchange for Charlie naming judges to the bench in Broward County who would rule favorably for his law firm.
Earlier this month Dan Gelber, a former Democratic state senator, ran to Charlie's defense. You can't trust a liar and a con man, Gelber said. But Rothstein didn't pull the allegation out of thin air. On Dec. 1, 2009, Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald reported this:
Rothstein’s law firm gave $52,000 to the state GOP on July 28, 2008, the same day Crist appointed Jay Hurley, an old college chum, to the Broward County Court. A day later Rothstein’s firm donated another $25,000 to the party.
Crist appointed Rothstein to the 4th DCA Judicial Nominating Commission on Aug. 25, 2008, four days before Rothstein contributed $140,000 to the RPOF. Rothstein and his firm gave $100,000 to the RPOF on Jan. 26, 2009. Crist appointed Judges Carlos Rodriguez and Barbara McCarthy two days later.
On Dec. 1, 2009, Maurice Ferré, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, became the first to call for a corruption investigation of Charlie Crist.
"State campaign finance records show a troubling pattern of large contributions from Mr. Rothstein and immediate and subsequent appointments of judges to the 4th District Court of Appeal," said Ferré, a former six-term mayor of Miami. "Is this pattern a coincidence? Could it indicate real corruption in the judicial nominating process and raise legitimate questions about a possibility of Crist's integrity and his fitness to govern?"
Charlie called the accusation "absurd" and it was dismissed as meaningless election foreplay. Not soon after, it went away, overtaken by scandals within the Jim Greer-led GOP and the arrest of Rothstein.
In November 2009, Bob Norman and Tom Francis of the New Times wrote lavishly about the triangle of influence among Rothstein, Charlie Crist, and former North Broward Hospital District Chief Operating Officer Spencer Levine, whom Crist appointed as an appellate judge in April of that year.
A hospital board vendor told the New Times that in January 2009, he was having a problem with the board and wanted to solve it. He told the newspaper he called not-yet-appointed Sen. George LeMieux, the governor's right-hand man, guru of the hospital district and the man who appointed its board. LeMieux told him to go see Rothstein.
The vendor told the newspaper, "[Rothstein] told me he had Spencer Levine in his pocket and that he was going to get him on the 4th District Court of Appeal. He said they were friends, they socialized, and that Levine would do anything he wanted him to do. He said, 'I'm on the Judicial Nominating Committee, and I got Spencer in my pocket,' quote-unquote."
Coincidence or fiddle? The JNC on which Rothstein sat nominated Levine for the 4th DCA post, and in April, as I mentioned above, Crist appointed him to the lofty judgeship. But the appointment sparked an uneasy undercurrent. Levine given such a position -- it stuck out like spokes on a Roman chariot: He had never been a judge, hadn't practiced law for several years. Caputo identified the Levine-Crist connection in the Herald story: He headed the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit when Charlie was attorney general.
Said reporter Norman, "It was, put simply, very obviously a political appointment."
Norman mentions another interesting connection, too: In 2008 Levine's wife, Judith, won the job as general counsel "at none other than the Broward sheriff's office, where both Crist and Rothstein enjoyed great sway with Sheriff Al Lamberti."
Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, had this comment on the Scott Rothstein/Charlie Crist revelations in the Feb. 6 Washington Times: “Political analysts say Rothstein's testimony is unusual because it is rare that episodes of favor-trading are recounted in such explicit detail," she said.
"There are pretty strong laws on the books, at least at the federal level, when you are making promises in exchange for money. Even at the federal level, to be caught up in violating that law, you have to be very stupid. This notion that [Rothstein] is describing that he had such leverage and influence with Crist, and that there was some kind of agreement for contributions is somewhat troubling."
I'd just like to leave you with this thought: If I can dredge up these connections on Google, so can a U.S. attorney's office that claims corruption in government is "the great scourge of our time." The newspapers have already done the hard work. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says it's not their job. Attorney General Pam Bondi's office says it's not theirs either. They're both right -- it isn't.
It's time for the feds to show us they care. Do they, I wonder? In a political time and place where Democat Charlie Crist is Democratic President Barack Obama's man, it's time to put into action the bipartisan spirit this administration talks about with such a sense of ownership and investigate the Scott Rothstein-Charlie Crist connection. Tell the people of Florida what's going on.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.