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The Harry Sergeant story: Cash. Crist. The Pentagon

Harry Sargeant III had a $10 million problem.

With his company mired in a costly three-year contract dispute with the Pentagon, the Boca Raton businessman and Republican fundraiser dispatched a well-known lobbyist to a senator's office to plead his case. Then Sargeant dispatched his lawyers to sue the federal government -- and eventually clinched a $3.2 million settlement.

The episode offers a telling glimpse into the power wielded by a political and business heavyweight who does his heaviest lifting behind the scenes.

Harry Sargeant may be the most influential South Florida figure no one has ever heard of -- no one, that is, outside the corridors of power.

He owns a waterfront mansion in Delray Beach, shares his corporate jet with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist -- his college buddy -- and maintains business interests ranging from an international asphalt company to $1 billion in Pentagon contracts to ship fuel to the military in Iraq.

And he donates money, lots of it -- between himself, family and companies, almost $2 million to committees and candidates from Florida to California, The Miami Herald found, with most given in the past two years and most, but not all, to Republican causes.

GOP presidential nominee John McCain tapped Sargeant as co-finance chairman in Florida, and in March, Sargeant hosted a fundraiser for McCain at his $8 million Intracoastal Waterway home.

''They announced the figure at the end, and it was so big I couldn't believe it. I think it was a million dollars,'' recalled Miami developer Stanley Tate, who attended.

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