The (Roger) Stone Around Carl Paladino's Neck
It's an astonishing total, and a measure of Stone's shaping influence on the Paladino campaign, reaffirmed in an almost Jon Stewart-esque NY1 juxtaposition of Paladino's televised three-minute appearance last night and Stone's echo-chamberlike interview on the same channel two nights before. If "the-state's-in-a-death-spiral" and other comments were word-for-word Paladino repetitions of Stone, guess where the Andrew's-sexual-prowess-is-legendary came from? I nominate the guy whose swinger ad in 1996 claimed he was "8 inches plus," and that he and his wife were "hot, athletic, and very fit," or Stone's alter ego and Paladino campaign manager Michael Caputo, another hard-on wordsmith.
Stone called Paladino's reference to Cuomo's "prowess" a "compliment" on Liz Benjamin's Capital Tonight, presumably just like when Roger threw the word around to brag about his Florida friend Charlie Crist's "fundraising prowess." Stone thinks this campaign is an example of his own prowess, though, in a year when Republicans operatives are feasting on the corporate largesse flooding their national campaigns, Roger is eating Buffalo wings with Crazy Carl.
The overweening and catastrophic power of the Stone/Caputo nexis on Paladino makes what you are about to read a Paladino story, not just another Barrett colonoscopy of Stone, who enjoys them so much he threw us a "half-truth" comment on a recent one. Now that Cuomo has agreed to debate his six opponents, Roger will have at least two candidates on the stage, Paladino and Manhattan Madam Kristin Davis. If Charles Barron proves to be just a stand-in for Al Sharpton, Roger, who orchestrated the Rev's 2004 presidential campaign, could score a hat-trick.
Should a convicted felon like Davis be allowed to let it all hang out at a gubernatorial debate in a state that's in a death spiral?
I have to admit that this Stone saga even shocks me, as familiar as I am with his four-decade career, rooted in his wasted youth inside the townhouse of Roy Cohn, the Al Pacino character in HBO's Angels in America who was New York's ultimate alleyway fixer and virtually fathered tender Roger in the '70s and early '80s.
New York hasn't heard anything about this Roger tale but it's big news in Florida, where, even as he and Paladino poison our state, his professional life is unraveling once again. Stone's partner in a two-person consulting firm, Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein, pled guilty in January 2010 to stealing $1.2 billion, was sentenced in June 2010 to 50 years in prison, and was talking to the feds night and day about his "many co-conspirators" even as Stone cranked out the Paladino campaign message in New York.
Michael Caputo, who goes so far back with Roger that he handled press inquiries when Stone's swinger life cost him his job in the Bob Dole presidential campaign, has also been tied to the Rothstein firm, which, among its crimes, sold six- and seven-figure settlements of fantasy lawsuits, sometimes involving sexual secrets, to unsuspecting millionaire investors.
Stone even got Paladino to hire Cheryl Seinfeld, a Rothstein lobbyist who managed the distribution of hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions from the firm, some of which are described as illegal in the Rothstein indictment. Stone was deposed in the bankruptcy of the Rothstein law firm in March, at the same time that he and Caputo were launching the Paladino campaign. Seinfeld was deposed in May, right after she'd shuttled back and forth to Buffalo twice to meet with Stone's new hostage Paladino.
The law firm, named Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler (RRA), maintained an office in New York at Stone's $7,000-a-month 40 Central Park South condo in 2007 and parts of 2008. Stone's infamous threatening phonecall to Bernard Spitzer, the 83-year-old Parkinson-riddled father of the then governor, was made on a line then listed on RRA's website as its New York number. Stone left a screed on the answering machine, warning the elder Spitzer that he'd be subpoenaed, "arrested and brought to Albany" and that there wasn't "a goddam thing your phony, psycho, piece of shit son could do about it."
Stone's denials were absurd. He had to retreat from his initial claim that he was at a Broadway show at the time of the call, but a reporter learned that the theater was dark at the time. In a projection of his jujitsui style, he branded it "Spitzer's ultimate dirty trick" on his website. Then he blamed it on his landlord, who was the Spitzer-appointed chair of the MTA (he later ran away from that claim as well). Rothstein offered equally ridiculous defenses to Florida reporters, yet the call quickly cost Stone his $20,000-a-month, get-Spitzer, consulting gig with the New York State Senate GOP.
As Kroll, the investigations firm hired by Bernard Spitzer, reported to the family, Stone's site, stonezone.com, was also then "sponsored by RRA Attorneys at Law," a phrase featured "prominently in a banner at the top of the home page." Indeed, Dianne Thorne, Stone's aide whose two companies have so far been paid $85,720 by the Paladino campaign, was listed at RRA's Fort Lauderdale office address as the administrative and technical contact for the website.
Stone had a corner office on the same floor of the firm as Rothstein in the Bank of America tower there, filled with his Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Roy Cohn memorabilia, until the FBI raided it and carted away 44 boxes of records, hard drives and trash last November, signaling the firm's collapse. RRA Consulting LLC, Stone's partnership with Rothstein, was just dissolved by Florida officials on September 24, ten days after Paladino's primary victory. The consulting company was created in early 2006, designed to provide public affairs and government relations assistance to clients of the law firm, as Rothstein described it.
"Stone is the guy that no one wants to admit to using," Rothstein told Bob Norman in the Broward Palm Beach New Times blog. "But the second the shit hits the fan, it's 'Get me Roger Stone.' I was telling someone just last night that Roger is a guy we keep locked up in his office, and I'll shove food under the door every now and then to feed him. But when something happens and someone needs help, we'll open the door. You let him out and let him do what he does. Because when he's out, nobody tells him what to do."
Like Stone, Rothstein played the tough guy until last October, when he wound up sitting in his shower with his business suit on and a .357 magnum pressed against his head for an hour, unable to pull the trigger. Married to two different Kimberly Annes and the son of a New York condom salesman, Rothstein instead fled Florida for Morocco in a chartered jet with $16 million, only to return a few days later to become a federal informant. As well covered as the raid was, he was wired up by the feds and put on the street, miraculously nabbing several mob associates. His bodyguard, Bobby Scandiffio, did kill himself, and the husband of his executive assistant is now charged with murdering a partner in the firm, a case that began well before the collapse. His assistant, Debra Villegas, was just sentenced to ten years on money laundering charges.
The indictment alleges that "potential investors were told by Rothstein and other co-conspirators that confidential settlement agreements were available for purchase at a discount," to be "repaid to the investors at face value over time." Investors were convinced that RRA "utilized former law enforcement personnel and employed highly sophisticated investigative methods" in pursing these "sexual harassment and/or whistle blower cases" and "negotiated settlements" with well-to-do defendants "prior to the initiation of litigation."
In fact, the suits and settlements were a mirage, abetted by Rothstein's very public associations with local law enforcement agencies, including the Broward County sheriff, whose electoral triumph was engineered by Stone. The indictment says that "Rothstein and other co-conspirators associated with affluent and politically connected individuals to lure wealthy investors into the Ponzi scheme," a description of one of the roles Rothstein may well have envisioned for Stone.
The government has seized 15 Rothstein properties, including a $5.6 million apartment in Bloomberg L.P.'s headquarters building at One Beacon Court in New York, 12 cars, including a 2010 white Lamborghini, and 3 boats, precisely the kind of extravagance that's a magnet for Stone.
No wonder it all felt like home for so long to Roger.
It was home to Seinfeld too, who became both a business and social friend of Stone's while both were at RRA. Her credentials for the Paladino campaign were impeccable. She was the finance director for the Republican Party of Florida until the summer of 2008, when she left the party for RRA. Jim Greer, the party chair while she worked there, was also recently indicted on money laundering and other charges, and some Florida news reports have connected Greer's case to information supplied by Rothstein. With both of her most recent bosses in handcuffs, Seinfeld was, in Stone's view, precisely what the Paladino campaign needed.
Though Seinfeld has never done any fundraising outside of Florida, she flew to Buffalo to work with Stone and Paladino in April. She is listed three times at her Florida home address for a total of $9095 in Paladino payments, starting on April 1 and ending on April 27. An April 7 payment on a Fort Lauderdale American Express card for $1711 also appears in the filing. The first expenditures of the Paladino campaign occurred in mid March, indicating that Seinfeld was one of the first people brought into the campaign, shortly after Stone and Caputo.
In September, the campaign began paying MediaOne, a Florida data firm that employed Seinfeld. Its two payments thus far total $5,684, though the company says it's still working for Paladino. A human resources executive at the firm told the Voice that she worked there for about three months, and was "hired as a favor to a friend when she was in between jobs." She declined to say who the friend was, but added that she's now "moved on" to work for Rick Scott, the GOP gubernatorial candidate in Florida, though her name doesn't appear on any Scott filing.
The Rothstein indictment says that the firm's donations, which Seinfeld oversaw, were "designed to conceal the true source of such funds and to circumvent state and federal laws governing the limitation and contributions of such funds." When Seinfeld was deposed in the bankruptcy case, she admitted that Grant Smith, the son of a congressman who did political work with her for the firm, directed her to funnel contributions through "spin-off companies" to conceal "conflict-of-interest" donations. A bankruptcy attorney said that Scandiffio had testified, before killing himself, that she participated in money laundering discussions, but she denied it.
Seinfeld also worked in the RRA lobbying office, which was tied to the Stone/Rothstein consulting firm. She flew to the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis on a chartered plane with Rothstein, Stone, Scandiffio and others from the firm.
Caputo's ties to the Rothstein operation are spelled out in a series of shocking lawsuits, filed in federal court in Brooklyn and elsewhere. In 2008, two investors in a Costa Rican hotel project, Barry Strudwick and Susan Weiss, sued Caputo individually, Caputo Public Relations (the firm Paladino has paid nearly a half million dollars), and an RRA client named Russell Whitney and his company Whitney Information Network. The Maryland suit charged that Whitney hired Caputo to work with Rothstein and RRA "to engage in bullying tactics, sharp litigation practices and widespread defamation to try scare Weiss and Strudwick off" the Costa Rican development. The complaint charged that Caputo "promotes himself as a litigation strategist" and "has close ties" to RRA.
Last September, the Whitney entities agreed to a $3.8 million settlement, explicitly noting in court documents that their claims "against Caputo, CPR, Rothstein, RRA, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler Consulting Group and Roger Stone are preserved."
Whitney states in an ongoing lawsuit with RRA that the firm "approved the conduct of Michael Caputo and his company in posting and implementing a defamatory website entitled BARRYBUSTED.COM." Caputo created the website, according to Whitney, "at the direction" of RRA and Stone's consulting group. "Are you thinking about investing with Barry Strudwick?" Caputo's site asked? "THINK AGAIN." The site cited the phony suit even before Rothstein filed it in Brooklyn, according to the complaint, and allowed it to remain on the site after it was quickly dismissed (Rothstein wasn't even licensed to practice law In New York).
Caputo's site quoted from a non-existent suit charging Strudwick with "conspiracy, fraud, civil racketeering and mail fraud." The posting and the distribution of similar flyers in Costa Rico was deliberately timed to disrupt Strudwick's hosting of a group of potential purchasers visiting the project there. Caputo took credit for both in an interview with the Tico Times, an English newspaper there.
Another lawsuit that Caputo has said he is funding at a cost of $20,000 a month involves a challenge to the Florida Tea Party. Frank Herrara, a partner at RRA until its recent collapse, has been representing the Caputo-tied Tea Party activists that are suing the party that is registered with the state.
Research assistance: Lily Altavena, Samantha Cook, Ryan Gellis, Jared Greenfield, Puneet Parhar, Brianna Strange.