Since March, Philip J. Martin has traveled around the country on behalf of GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson, flying the former senator to events and working to raise more than $6 million for Thompson's campaign.
In the 30 years prior, Martin raised hell, according to public records and numerous lawsuits reviewed by ABC News, as a bookie, drug dealer and accused double-dealer.
Police files show Martin was convicted of or pleaded guilty to multiple felonies in the 1970s and 80s and started and folded dozens of businesses in the 1990s. More recently, former investors have been chasing millions they say they are owed by Martin's former companies.
A longtime friend of Thompson's, Martin helped raise money for both of the candidate's Senate bids. But this year he appears to enjoy unparalleled roles at the heart of Thompson's campaign organization: as head of the "First Day Founders," a Thompson campaign fundraising group which secured millions in pledged donations prior to Thompson's official announcement, and as the unofficial aviation service to the candidate. Through July, the Thompson campaign has paid Martin more than $140,000 to use his private jets, according to campaign finance records.
Those flights have saved Thompson's campaign more than $100,000, the Washington Post reported Sunday, because of a campaign finance rule, since changed, that allowed candidates to pay a fraction of the usual price of such chartered flights.
In a television appearance Sunday, Thompson, a former assistant U.S. attorney who for several seasons played district attorney Arthur Branch on the popular television show "Law and Order," affirmed his friendship with Martin but said he first learned of his criminal past on Saturday. However, Thompson said, Martin had "paid his debt to society" and he would not "throw him under a bus" because of the revelations.
Thompson did not say how long he has known Martin, or how the two men met. A spokeswoman for the Thompson campaign said she was "not going to expound beyond" Thompson's comments or information already reported. Neither Martin nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment.
Answering questions from an ABC News producer covering a Thompson campaign stop in Nashville in June, Martin denied he was a member of Thompson's inner circle, but described himself as a volunteer, "just a friend" of the former Tennessee senator who has raised more than $6 million for his presidential campaign.
"It's just been really exciting," Martin said.
Martin's history is as colorful as it is long. In 1977, police arrested the Tennessee native, then 19-years-old, after they said he sold 11 pounds of marijuana to an undercover cop in Florida, state criminal records show. He pleaded guilty to that felony and to one count of bookmaking, the documents indicate.
In December 1982, police arrested Martin for what they said were several parole violations, including illegal gambling on Christmas Day, those same records show. He was also accused of stealing liquor from a Florida county sheriff's office. Three of the gambling charges and the theft charge were later dropped.