In one of Gov. Rick Scott’s most widely run attack ads, a victim of Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein links Charlie Crist to the “swindle.”
Now Scott is backing away from the allegation of criminal mischief by suggesting that Crist’s “swindle” was due to his political flip-floppery – not the Ponzi scheme.
“This individual was a victim of both Scott Rothstein and Charlie Crist. Both of them promised things, and they didn’t come through,” Scott said of the ad on Wednesday during a Miami campaign stop.
“Charlie said he was a Ronald Reagan Republican. He was against tax increases. He was against raising your tuition. And he did both,” Scott said, repeating variations of the line when reporters sought clarification. “Charlie was a Republican and then an independent then a Democrat.”
Here’s what the ad is missing: Everything Scott specifically said about Crist.
The ad never says anything about Ronald Reagan.
It never says anything about college tuition.
It never mentions taxes.
It never mentions that Crist was a Republican.
It never mentions that Crist was an independent.
It never mentions that Crist is now a Democrat.
Asked if he believed Crist participated in the Ponzi scheme itself, Scott wouldn’t give a yes or a no.
“What I can tell you is the ad speaks for itself," Scott said. "Charlie and Scott Rothstein did the same thing. They took money from somebody and they lied to him.”
Here’s what Crist did as far as “taking money:” he accepted a single, $500 campaign contribution check from Kretschmar in 2006. Crist went on to change political positions and his party affiliation.
Here’s what Rothstein did: oversee a $1.4 billion Ponzi scheme -- the fourth-largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history. It ultimately defrauded scores of investors of $360 million.
Kretschmar was one of those victims. Kretschmar’s investor group, called “Razorback,” was able to recoup most of its losses because it sued deep-pocketed TD Bank, which Rothstein used in the scheme and which Rothstein then turned on.
Kretschmar’s lawsuit never mentioned Crist. Yet Kretschmar says without explanation in his ad: “I got swindled by both Rothstein and Charlie.”
In the ad – which Scott has run at least 4,000 times at a cost of about $2 million -- Kretschmar talks about Rothstein and Crist’s relationship, omitting various details and focusing on the convicted Ponzi schemer’s disputed claim that he essentially sold judgeships to Crist in return for campaign money.
Which judges? Kretschmar and Scott won’t say. Nor did Rothstein, now serving a 50-year prison sentence, during court testimony. The claim was under federal investigation after it was first raised in 2009, but no longer.
Crist’s unsuccessful 2010 U.S. Senate campaign accepted nearly $82,000 from Rothstein and his law firm. Crist, along with many other politicians and charities, wound up returning the money to help make Ponzi victims whole.
Kretschmar references all of the money Crist received from Rothstein and talks about the closeness of the two. Kretschmar, though, never mentions that his own lawyer, Scott donor William R. Scherer, was friends with Rothstein, who considered him a “mentor” and whom Scherer once spoke highly of in 2008 – at the height of the Ponzi scheme and just a year before Kretschmar was duped.
Crist has also stretched the truth when it comes to Rothstein. In a response to Scott's first ad about the relationship between Crist and Rothstein, Crist's campaign said that Scott has "teamed up" with Rothstein. There's no evidence showing that link, and PolitiFact rated the ad False.
Crist does bear some blame for what happened in the scheme, says Chuck Malkus, a Fort Lauderdale public-relations consultant and author of a book about the Rothstein scheme called “The Ultimate Ponzi.”
Malkus points out that the scheme started when Crist was Florida Attorney General, the state’s top prosecutor post. And it continued when Crist became governor in 2007. Crist then gave Rothstein the veneer of legitimacy by tapping him for a post on a West Palm Beach-based Judicial Nominating Commission, which is in charge of recommending judges to fill vacancies.
Malkus said he couldn’t understand the strategy of the Scott campaign.
On one hand, making disputable and inflammatory statements – especially through an anonymous spokesman – can provoke more media coverage and give the ad a higher profile. But then, Malkus said, that could lead people to distrust Scott and his campaign.
“It causes more questions,” Malkus said. “They could just stick to the facts. There’s no need for exaggeration.”
By most definitions, a swindle is a fraud, a crime. But, as Scott now says, a "swindle" can be considered a mere trick under one definition. And so one could say Crist “swindled” people by flip-flopping.
But by that definition, then, Scott is a “swindler” for saying he opposed in-state tuition breaks for illegal immigrants before signing a bill that did just that, etc.
Also by that definition, an ad that suggests one thing while the politician says something else is a “swindle.”