Attorney Russell Adler, a top partner in Scott Rothstein's disgraced Fort Lauderdale law firm, was charged Friday with breaking federal election laws by illegally bundling hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to the campaigns of GOP presidential nominee John McCain and U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Crist, Florida's former Republican governor.
In a single conspiracy charge, Adler is accused of collaborating with Rothstein and other firm employees to donate the unlawfully bundled donations in 2008 and 2009. Adler and other unnamed co-conspirators at the firm are accused of receiving salary bonuses as reimbursement for those personal expenses.
In 2010, after Rothstein’s arrest on racketeering charges stemming from his $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, Crist returned the contributions from the law firm and partners. The McCain campaign, however, had already distributed the donations to political action committees in battleground states.
The conspiracy charge filed against Adler, which carries a maximum five-year sentence, is designed as a plea deal that paves the way for the attorney to plead guilty. It avoids a potential racketeering indictment posing the risk of a much longer prison term if he were convicted at trial.
“We're taking a plea to the campaign finance violation,” Adler's attorney, Fred Haddad, told The Miami Herald Friday.
Adler, who will have his first federal court appearance next week, is among the most prominent of more than15 people charged so far in connection with Rothstein's massive investment scheme. The charge against Adler is seen as a possible harbinger for a half-dozen other uncharged Rothstein law partners, employees and investors, including his closest named partner, Stuart Rosenfeldt. He has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing.
Rothstein’s racket, which entailed the sale of fabricated legal settlements to wealthy investors, collapsed in fall 2009. Rothstein, who headed the 70-attorney law firm, Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler, pleaded guilty in early 2010 and is serving a 50-year prison sentence.
According to the latest charge against Adler, Rothstein funneled some of the stolen investors’ money through the law firm to finance election campaign donations to fund-raising committees for the McCain-Palin presidential ticket in 2008 and for then-Gov. Crist’s bid for the U.S. Senate.
Rothstein’s goal was “to increase the stature and apparent political power” of his law firm, according to prosecutors Lawrence LaVecchio, Paul Schwartz and Jeffrey Kaplan, who have led the sprawling investigation since fall 2009.
The conspiracy charge claims Adler contributed $80,000 to McCain Victory Florida fund in June 2008 and that Rothstein’s law firm reimbursed him $140,000, which included a salary bonus.
In October 2008, the charge claims, Adler donated another $124,000 to McCain-Palin Victory fund and was repaid $143,000. The reimbursement check made out to Adler was “fraudulently backdated” to reflect it was issued six days before his actual contribution.
The document says that Adler was among many Rothstein lawyers, employees and clients who attended a Crist fund-raiser at the Ponzi schemer’s waterfront home in late June 2009. The total haul for Crist’s Senate campaign: $239,000. Adler’s own donation to Crist was $2,400.
Rothstein’s orchestrated financial backing of Crist resurfaced last month during the trial of a former law associate accused of fraud charges related to his investment scam.
Rothstein, testifying for the first time in a criminal trial, said Crist engaged in a contributions-for-favors “quid pro quo.”
The allegations reverberated in the news media, putting the now-Democratic candidate for governor on the defensive in his campaign against Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Crist called Rothstein’s allegation “gibberish.”
“The guy's a convicted felon,” Crist told the Miami Herald. “You can't believe anything he says. It's garbage. Rubbish ... He should crawl back in his cave.”