MIAMI — A former law partner of convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein was charged Friday with conspiring to violate federal campaign contribution laws involving thousands of dollars donated to the campaigns of John McCain and Charlie Crist.
Court records show the charges were filed against Russell Adler, who was a principal in the now-defunct Fort Lauderdale law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, or RRA. The firm was liquidated after Rothstein's $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme was exposed in fall 2009.
Adler is charged with helping orchestrate thousands of dollars in bundled contributions from the firm's employees and attorneys to McCain's 2008 campaign for president with running mate Sarah Palin and Crist's run for the U.S. Senate. The contributions were illegally reimbursed by the law firm, federal prosecutors said.
There is no indication that McCain or Crist, or their campaigns, knew of the illegal scheme. Adler has consistently denied wrongdoing in the Ponzi scheme, which involved investments in phony legal settlements. Rothstein is serving a 50-year prison sentence for the scheme.
The type of filing used by prosecutors to charge Adler, called an information, usually indicates that the defendant intends to plead guilty. Neither Adler nor his attorney immediately responded to emails seeking comment. If convicted, Adler faces a maximum five-year prison sentence and up to $250,000 in fines.
The point of the illicit fund-raising, prosecutors said in court papers, was to "increase the stature and apparent political power of RRA" on the federal, state and local levels and also as "a means to influence and attempt to influence political officials" to obtain government appointments and contracts for Rothstein and his firm.
In one example cited by prosecutors, Adler allegedly made a $124,000 contribution to the McCain-Palin Victory Fund in October 2008 and soon after got a law firm check for $143,000. The check, prosecutors said, was backdated to falsely indicate that it was provided before the campaign contribution and was labeled as a "bonus."
Rothstein held a June 2009 fund-raiser for Crist — at the time Florida's Republican governor running for the U.S. Senate — at his waterfront home in Fort Lauderdale. Prosecutors say people associated with the Rothstein firm raised more than $239,000 for Crist at the event, with some $26,000 illegally reimbursed to contributors by the law firm.
Crist, who lost the Senate race to Republican Marco Rubio after becoming an independent, is now running as a Democrat for Florida governor.
As a result of their fund-raising efforts, prosecutors say Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler became the nation's top contributor to McCain's 2008 campaign and was second-highest for Crist's Senate campaign. Rothstein's fund-raising efforts for McCain led him to be chosen as a delegate to the 2008 Republican National Convention.
Sixteen other people have pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial in the Rothstein case.
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