Convicted Fort Lauderdale executive gets 15 years for ‘lavish’ money-laundering plot

 

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

Steven Steiner, a former executive for a Fort Lauderdale insurance brokerage business that fleeced hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, was sentenced Friday to 15 years in federal prison.

Steiner, 61, was convicted earlier this year of conspiring to launder the money to support his expensive lifestyle in waterfront homes in Fort Lauderdale and Maine, and a condominium in Manhattan.

His defense lawyer urged U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams to show mercy and sentence him to about five years, far less punishment than recommended under federal sentencing guidelines.

“Mr. Steiner is admittedly an imperfect soul,” attorney Joaquin Mendez wrote in an objection to the sentencing guidelines. “However, he requests that the court consider his good deeds and sensibilities, which the sentencing guidelines generally ignore, into account in determining the appropriate sentence.”

Federal prosecutors strongly disagreed, arguing that a 22-year prison term under the sentencing guidelines for Steiner’s offense would not be “unreasonable.”

Williams essentially split the difference in determining the punishment for the former vice president of Mutual Benefits Corp., the business that was shuttered by federal regulators almost a decade ago.

Steiner offered no apology for his wrongdoing, and instead penned a rambling, remorseless note to the judge. He described as “draconian” the indictment against him and his former partner, saying they lost everything in forfeiture to the U.S. government.

“There were clearly no real winners at the end of this trial,” Steiner wrote in his 14-page note, saying he was “no doubt one of America’s biggest losers.”

“I was ultimately punished for the greed and arrogance of others,” he concluded.

In February, Steiner was found guilty of the main money-laundering conspiracy charge along with 18 other counts, including conspiring to defraud the U.S. government, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

But the federal jury acquitted Steiner, who has been held at the Miami Federal Detention Center since his arrest in 2011, of 35 other charges.

The 12-person jury also acquitted Steiner’s former live-in partner, Henry Fecker III, 59, of all charges.

Both men were accused of laundering $15 million in ill-gotten profits from an investment scam allegedly run by Mutual Benefits. The company sold $1.25 billion worth of life insurance policies, held by people dying of AIDS, to investors who lost $830 million — among Florida’s biggest financial frauds, federal authorities say.

The men were charged with laundering the millions through home purchases in Fort Lauderdale, Maine and Manhattan, as well as with hiding assets from U.S. authorities and lying to a court-appointed receiver who was seeking to reimburse Mutual Benefits investors who bought the so-called viatical policies.

During trial, Steiner testified that no fraud was committed at Mutual Benefits and that he complied with his settlement obligations with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the receiver, who took over the bankrupt company in 2004. Steiner also testified that his company was a "victim" of the receiver’s decision to wind down the business.

On the witness stand, Steiner name-dropped Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Phil Donahue as friends.

Fecker’s lawyer, Valentin Rodriguez, argued that his client was a dupe who was misled by Steiner.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jerrob Duffy and Dwayne Williams depicted Steiner and Fecker as partners in crime, claiming they used “money from a massive Ponzi scheme” at Mutual Benefits to support their “lavish lifestyle.”

Separately, Steiner is awaiting a September trial on fraud charges accusing him, his brother, Joel Steinger, and a one-time Mutual Benefits lawyer of conspiring to bilk investors between 1994 and 2003. (Although Steiner and Steinger are brothers, they spell their last names differently.)

Ten former company employees, including president Peter Lombardi, have pleaded guilty and been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the long-standing fraud case.

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