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Charlie Crist to return more Rothstein 'fraud' contributions

Fort Lauderdale attorney Scott Rothstein doled out large bonuses to his firm's lawyers, purportedly for exemplary work -- but they would receive the awards only after they made fat campaign contributions in their names to political candidates of Rothstein's choice.

That allegation, tucked into federal racketeering charges filed Tuesday against Rothstein, says the employees' donations to politicians -- including Gov. Charlie Crist -- were illegal because they were bundled and funded with money from the lawyer's $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.

``[The] conduct was designed to conceal the true source of the contribution and to illegally circumvent campaign finance laws,'' according to the charges.

Rothstein, 47, was under investigation for a month after investors in his legal-settlement deals accused him of stealing from them. He was arrested Tuesday on racketeering, money laundering and fraud charges, and pleaded not guilty before a magistrate judge in Fort Lauderdale. He faces up to 100 years in prison if convicted.

Rothstein, whose hands were cuffed in front of him, wore blue jeans and a brown and black T-shirt to the court hearing, exuding a casual and confident demeanor. When he sat down in court, he leaned back and swiveled in his chair to survey the rows of federal agents and reporters crammed inside the courtroom. But he also fidgeted with his hands and fingers because of the cuffs, and his left eye repeatedly twitched.

When he was escorted out of the courtroom by U.S. marshals, Rothstein smiled and winked at a reporter.

Authorities said he spent tens of millions of dollars on his lavish lifestyle and donated millions more to charities and politicians to enhance his reputation. The Ponzi-fueled contributions enhanced his stature in a vicious cycle that led to more ill-gotten gains and, thus, more contributions, the federal records show.

All told, Rothstein and the lawyers associated with his firm gave more than $2.1 million to state and federal candidates and political committees since he allegedly began his scam in 2005.

Crist, a Republican, received more contributions from Rothstein and attorneys of his law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, than any other candidate this year: $80,450 for his U.S. Senate bid, according to campaign finance records.

Asked whether he would return all the money now that federal authorities are alleging Rothstein's contributions were tainted, Crist said: ``Well, certainly, if there's evidence that indicates [wrongdoing] that's exactly what we would do.''

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