Two Broward sheriff’s detectives charged in Rothstein’s Ponzi case

04/25/2014 11:28 AM

04/25/2014 8:19 PM

A Broward Sheriff's Office lieutenant who escorted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein to a Fort Lauderdale airport to flee to Morocco with $500,000 stuffed into a suitcase has been charged in the long-running criminal case.

David Benjamin was charged Friday with pocketing about $185,000 from the now-imprisoned attorney to help one of Rothstein’s law partners threaten a prostitute and her boyfriend — one month before the Fort Lauderdale con man’s investment scam collapsed in October 2009.

The unnamed law partner turned to Rothstein because the prostitute’s boyfriend was allegedly threatening to expose the partner’s “illicit sexual relationship with the escort,” according to charges.

“The law partner was concerned that the disclosure of his illicit relationship would ruin his career, his reputation and his marriage,” the charges stated.

Benjamin also was charged with helping a lawyer friend of Rothstein’s by having his ex-wife arrested by a BSO detective during a child-custody dispute.

That detective, Jeff Poole, who worked under Benjamin in BSO’s Strategic Investigations Division, was charged with carrying out the arrest of the lawyer's ex-wife on trumped-up prescription drug offenses during a traffic stop in June 2009. The charges against the ex-wife were later dismissed.

The lawyer was not identified in court papers, but sources familiar with the probe say that Douglas L. Bates sought Rothstein’s assistance in using his law enforcement influence to target his ex-wife. Bates, a Plantation lawyer, pleaded guilty earlier this year for his role in Rothstein’s fraud conspiracy and awaits sentencing.

Benjamin and Poole are the 19th and 20th accomplices to be charged in the ongoing investigation of Rothstein’s $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, which involved the sale of phony legal settlements to wealthy investors. Rothstein, who pleaded guilty to racketeering and other fraud charges, is serving a 50-year sentence. Rothstein’s notorious crime, one of Florida’s largest financial frauds, has been hanging over the Broward Sheriff’s Office practically since Rothstein returned from Morocco in November 2009.

“David Benjamin and Jeff Poole used their official positions as law enforcement officers to commit civil rights abuses to further the interests of Scott Rothstein and others associated with Rothstein,” U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said. “When law enforcement officers betray the trust of the people, it strikes at the very core of our democracy.”

Poole and Benjamin started at BSO in the 1980s. Their actions related to Rothstein occurred during Sheriff Al Lamberti’s tenure. Lamberti, a Republican, lost to Democrat Scott Israel in 2012.

“When I became sheriff, a day or two after I became sheriff, the FBI briefed me on the Rothstein investigation and that’s when I made a decision to suspend the two officers,” Israel said during a press conference at BSO headquarters Friday. “That same information I believe was available to my predecessor but why he didn’t take the action I took you would have to ask him.”

On Friday, Israel fired both Benjamin, 48, of Boca Raton, and Poole, 47, of Weston.

“Law enforcement officers are clearly held to a higher standard and we should be,” Israel said. “Anytime a law officer abuses the public trust it hurts all of us.”

While Benjamin received cash, jewelry and sports tickets from Rothstein for his offenses, according to the charges, Poole was paid only $1,000 for making the false arrest of Bates’ ex-wife.

Poole got no money from Rothstein for his role in collaborating with Benjamin to put pressure on the prostitute and her boyfriend, according to charges. Poole is accused of going with two BSO deputies to the home of the prostitute and her boyfriend in September 2009.

The three officers restrained the boyfriend by handcuffing him, and then seized the escort’s cellular phone and deleted any evidence of her relationship with the law partner, the charges stated. Poole told the escort to leave Florida or she would be arrested — then the two other officers drove her to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and instructed her to return to Pennsylvania.

Benjamin, who once served as the right-hand man to former Sheriff Lamberti, and Poole are expected to surrender to FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents next week and have their first appearances in Fort Lauderdale federal court. Benjamin was charged with conspiring to commit extortion and civil rights violations, while Poole was charged only with the civil rights offense.

Both were charged by information, which is traditionally a telltale sign they are cooperating with the U.S. attorney's office and are expected eventually to plead guilty. They could not be reached for comment Friday.

Rothstein himself hinted at the mushrooming scandal of using his law firm’s money to pay for high-priced prostitutes during a 10-day deposition he gave at the end of 2011 in parallel civil lawsuits brought by his former investors.

Rothstein testified that his Las Olas Boulevard law firm maintained a condominium across the street where he and his law partners would have sex with prostitutes and then come back to work.

The imprisoned fraudster said his law firm spent tens of thousands of dollars a month on escorts, offering the women’s services to friends, investors and business associates.

Rothstein said that escorts were part of the “rock-star lifestyle” that he employed to seduce investors and manipulate people while he masterminded the investment scam at his law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler.

“There were probably times when we spent $50,000, $60,000 a month on escorts,” Rothstein testified. “It just depends. When there were political things in town, more. Big functions, conventions, more. People in town to entertain, more money. But it was a lot of money just for the law partners that were using escorts. Some of them had fairly voracious escort habits.”

He also said he provided escorts to two police officers, but he did not name them.

Rothstein said he provided escorts to law partners Stuart Rosenfeldt, Russell Adler and others.

Rosenfeldt’s defense attorney, Bruce Lehr, declined to comment on Friday.

Earlier this month, Adler pleaded guilty to a fraud conspiracy, involving the bundling of illegal campaign donations to GOP presidential candidate John McCain and U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Crist, Florida’s former Republican governor.

“I was giving Stu Rosenfeldt $5,000 a week for his escort habit, and general people at the law firm probably another few $1,000 a week,” Rothstein testified.

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