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From its base in South Beach, V Georgio Vodka was supposed to take over the world. Started by college basketball player, recording artist, and sports agent Victor Harvey, the company long ago hooked up with disgraced lawyer Scott Rothstein, who became a part-owner. Rothstein not only bought a stake in the "ultra-premium" — that means ridiculously expensive — vodka but also played a huge role in marketing it.
When Rothstein, who's now in custody awaiting trial for an alleged Ponzi scheme, was a sponsor at the Super Bowl in Tampa, V Georgio was the exclusive vodka sold at the official tailgate party. When Rothstein sponsored the BCS National Championship game at Dolphin Stadium, V Georgio was the official brand at those festivities. When Rothstein bought a piece of the former Versace mansion on South Beach, V Georgio was set to be its featured vodka. When Rothstein teamed up with boxing promoter Don King to hold a championship fight at the BankAtlantic Center this past Valentine's Day, V Georgio was the only vodka sold, at $15 a glass.
Now the federal government is knocking on Harvey's door in Weston wanting Rothstein's share in the company back.
Rothstein might have also opened up some doors at the Seminole Hard Rock, where he partnered with the tribe to hold Zo's Summer Groove. To get an idea of how Harvey rolled, here's a snippet from a blog post of his on April 6: "This weekend was pretty cool. It started off at Hard Rock Live with the Bellator Fighting Championships... We had the body-painted V Georgio girls that we are becoming famous for, strutting their stuff both inside and outside the arena. They stole the show from the ring card girls. ESPN was all over them taking pictures and filming them."
Harvey was trying to create a larger-than-life image for his vodka, and there was nobody better to do that with than Rothstein. Just look at V Georgio's website (vgeorgio.com), which opens with a shot of the vodka company's jet (not sure if it's real) and goes on to shots of South Beach, Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles. Then there's a shot of a velvet rope with the slogan "V Georgio, For Those Who Can."
Yeah, it had Rothstein all over it.
The Feds' To-Do List: The Rothstein investigation targets his inner circle
Now that Scott Rothstein is caged in the Federal Detention Center in Miami, what's next in the investigation? His inner circle is certainly going to get hit. And some of the lawyers from his firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler (RRA), will surely get popped.
On the financial side, a couple of guys associated with George Levin's Banyan hedge fund also look to be in serious trouble. The information used to jail Rothstein mention "lock letters" from TD Bank supposedly issued by regional VP Frank Spinosa. It's unclear whether some or all of those letters were forged, but Spinosa is among the most intriguing figures in the scandal.
The feds are also going deeper into the political arena. Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré is jumping on the issue of buying judgeships and Rothstein's position on the Fourth District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission. Rothstein allegedly boasted to friends of buying judges from Gov. Charlie Crist and state Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer.
"State campaign finance records show a troubling pattern of large contributions from Mr. Rothstein and immediate and subsequent appointments of Judges to the Fourth District Court of Appeal," Ferré wrote last week in a news release. "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?"
Crist appointed Rothstein to the Fourth District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission on August 25, 2008, four days before Rothstein contributed $140,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. Rothstein and his firm gave $100,000 to the party on January 26, 2009. Crist appointed Judges Carlos Rodriguez and Barbara McCarthy two days later. Ferré also questioned Crist's appointment of Spencer Levine to an appellate judgeship in the Fourth Circuit, saying Rothstein pushed his appointment despite lack of judicial experience.
"Are all these incidents just coincidence?" asks Ferré. "Perhaps the U.S. Attorney's investigation into corruption in South Florida should be expanded to include the Governor's possible auctioning of judicial appointments in Broward County. We need to know what Charlie Crist knew and when he knew it."
This investigation isn't going to be fast. Prosecutors are done with Rothstein as a target and now are using him solely as a witness. That means the feds need Rothstein to be as credible as possible. They don't want to hear Rothstein stories about insane shakedowns of Italian aristocrats, prostitutes and extortion plots, bodyguards gone amok, wise-guy drivers from New York, and other bizarre tales.
But that's where the fun is.
Two Strikes: A top Broward Sheriff's Office employee not only ran with Rothstein but also covered up a case, sources say
Fort Lauderdale lawyer Michael Santucci went missing for a couple of days in April last year.