Crime

Ponzi schemer Rothstein’s former law partner sentenced to nearly three years

Stuart Rosenfeldt, center, in court in 2009.
Stuart Rosenfeldt, center, in court in 2009. Miami Herald File

The wife and children of Stuart Rosenfeldt said they have forgiven him for spending the dirty money of his former law partner, Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, on prostitutes and other criminal conduct.

They and other supporters crowded into a Miami federal courtroom Thursday to point out Rosenfeldt’s long history of donating free legal work and personal time to charities in South Florida.

But their pleas for mercy did not sway U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who sentenced Rosenfeldt to almost three years in prison instead of a lesser term sought by his defense attorney. His sentencing came almost five years after the collapse of a $1.2 billion investment scheme that Rothstein ran out of their Fort Lauderdale law firm.

According to federal sentencing guidelines, Rosenfeldt, 59, faced between 23/4 years and 31/2 years in prison on his conspiracy conviction, which is unrelated to Rothstein's massive investment scam. Cooke chose the lower end of that range, after highlighting his guilty plea to a conspiracy charge: Rosenfeldt made illegal campaign donations, committed bank fraud and used law enforcement officers to threaten a high-priced prostitute to keep their sexual encounters secret.

“This taint is just too tough to rub away,” Cooke declared, after Rosenfeldt expressed remorse to the judge. She ordered him to surrender on Jan. 5.

His defense attorney, Bruce Lehr, urged the judge to give him a lesser sentence, citing not only the outpouring of support but also Rosenfeldt’s closeness to his troubled teenage son, George, who suffers from mental-health and drug-addiction issues.

“Stuart was the life preserver for his son while he was drowning,” Lehr told the judge.

Lehr also cited Rosenfeldt’s longtime pro bono and charity work for battered women, disadvantaged children and the Florida Bar. He described Rosenfeldt’s criminal behavior as “aberrant” in the context of an otherwise admirable life.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence LaVecchio reminded the judge that Rosenfeldt’s misconduct was typical of white-collar criminals. He said that Rosenfeldt, as an accomplished lawyer, should have known better than to take his partner’s money for bundling campaign donations to GOP presidential nominee John McCain and U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Crist, and for paying off Broward Sheriff’s deputies to run a pricey prostitute out of town who threatened his reputation.

LaVecchio called the incident violating the woman’s civil rights a “particularly pernicious event.”

The prosecutor also reminded the judge that a lot of people solicited by Rothstein while he carried out his Ponzi scheme rejected his overtures — but not Rosenfeldt. “Many people said ‘no’ to Scott Rothstein,” LaVecchio said. “Unfortunately, for this defendant, he was not one of them.”

The judge agreed: “Your client had an opportunity to say ‘no’ and he didn’t,” Cooke told defense attorney Lehr.

“I am asking you to look at the man who made these mistakes, and the man who for 50 years did not make mistakes,” Lehr argued, saying he has been a “magnificent” lawyer, volunteer and father.

Cooke would not budge, refusing to give Rosenfeldt a prison term below the sentencing guidelines.

By pleading guilty to the single conspiracy count, the Boca Raton resident avoided the risk of a potential racketeering charge that could have led to stiffer punishment for the former senior partner at Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler.

After his guilty plea in June, Rosenfeldt joined a group of about 30 co-defendants who have been charged, convicted or sentenced in the ongoing Rothstein investigation conducted by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service.

The prosecutions and plea bargains began to accelerate after Rothstein, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison, testified at the February trial of one of his law firm's associates, Christina Kitterman. After she was convicted of impersonating a Florida Bar official to help Rothstein keep his investment scheme alive, several other suspects quickly cut deals with prosecutors — including the other partner on the firm's nameplate, Russell Adler.

Adler pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and was sentenced to 21/2 years in prison, a term that he began this week.

Rosenfeldt was known as one of South Florida's top labor lawyers, and started the Las Olas Boulevard law firm with Rothstein in 2002.

Rothstein used his 70-attorney law firm to dupe wealthy investors from South Florida to New York into buying legal settlements at steep discounts — with promises of huge profits. The scheme was a fiction and unraveled in late October 2009.

Rosenfeldt, who has since lost his law license, always denied that he knew anything about Rothstein's Ponzi scheme. He said that he and Rothstein had an agreement that he would handle the legal side of the firm's operations while Rothstein handled the financial side.

But Rosenfeldt enjoyed what Rothstein called “the rock-star lifestyle,” according to prosecutors.

Perhaps most embarrassing, Rosenfeldt admitted in a plea statement that he arranged with Rothstein to have Broward law enforcement officers intimidate an “escort” and her boyfriend when Rosenfeldt believed they were about to expose his sexual relationship with the prostitute.

In September 2009, Rosenfeldt, Rothstein and then-Broward Sheriff's Lt. David Benjamin met at the law firm to discuss “having the escort and her boyfriend threatened with arrest.”

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