High-ranking officers guarded lawyer accused in Ponzi scheme

FORT LAUDERDALE — Twenty-eight city police officials, including captains, majors, undercover officers and the department spokesman, helped guard the home and businesses of attorney Scott Rothstein while, federal agents say, he ran a $1 billion Ponzi scheme.

Rothstein has not been charged or arrested, but federal agents seized his assets last week.

Records released Friday show the off-duty work by Fort Lauderdale police at Rothstein's home in Harbor Beach, his Bova Prime restaurant on Las Olas, and the nearby Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm was so heavy, it required two police officials to coordinate. Rothstein's cadre of uniformed officers included many high-ranking supervisors in the department. Two coordinators, Sgt. Steve Greenlaw and Officer DeAnna Garcia, were paid a 5.5 percent cut of the security-guarding total each week.

As Broward County absorbs the shocking allegations in the case, new attention has turned to Rothstein's coziness with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and to one official at the Broward Sheriff's Office. Rothstein's friendship with officers and deputies dates back 20 years, with his work as a labor attorney representing police officers and unions. At least one investor said he bragged about his closeness to law enforcement.

Fort Lauderdale police officials said Friday that their officers were not witnesses to criminal activity during their 24-hour work for Rothstein, and no officer raised any concerns that an investigation into economic crimes might be warranted.

"There is no Police Department employee that had any idea what was going on, to my knowledge," said Sgt. Frank Sousa, the spokesman, who worked at Rothstein's home several times and filled in occasionally at Bova. "... There is no wrongdoing on the part of our officers."

Rothstein was the only person in the department's history to have permanent round-the-clock off-duty police protection at his home. Fort Lauderdale police Chief Frank Adderley said he stands by his decision to allow the one-of-a-kind guard duty. Rothstein met the city policy that the employer not be a felon, and be of good moral character, he said.

Rothstein paid $40 to $50 an hour to the officers over 31 weeks beginning in April. At a weekly tab of at least $7,545 just for guarding his home, and $2,000 a week at the law firm, the total would have hit $296,000 by the time it ended. He also spent at least $31,620 for the Bova detail.

The department halted all work for Rothstein on Nov. 2, after investors raised concerns that the attorney may have misappropriated hundreds of millions of dollars.

Adderley said he was friendly with Rothstein, ate at Bova every Thursday and attended a political fundraising party at his home but didn't socialize with him.

He said he knew Rothstein gave money to the poor and had no evidence he was "anything less than a good citizen." He didn't see this coming and was shocked when allegations came to light.

"Who is not shocked by this?" Adderley said.

Friday, Rothstein remained a free man, as federal agents said they were working to build a case in what is now thought to be one of South Florida largest investment frauds.

Broward Sheriff's Office spokesman Jim Leljedal said the agency did no off-duty detail work for Rothstein. But Rothstein's ties to at least one Sheriff's Office employee are under scrutiny this week.

Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti on Thursday moved one of Rothstein's longtime friends, Lt. David Benjamin, out of his position as commander over Internal Affairs because of his relationship with Rothstein. Benjamin provided a personal escort to Rothstein to get aboard a jet and leave the country for Morocco two weeks ago.

Lamberti said the Sheriff's Office also opened an investigation Friday into a corporation Benjamin has, DWB Consulting Group LLC, "to determine whether his outside business met all the BSO (Broward Sheriff's Office) rules and regulations regarding outside employment."

Political consultant and former Rothstein associate Roger Stone said he met Benjamin and Col. Tom Wheeler of the Sheriff's Office at Rothstein's home last year. They were planning Lamberti's election campaign.

Stone said he originally thought Rothstein's desire to be surrounded by officers was part of the trappings of wealth and power. Now he thinks Rothstein might have been threatened by investors. He called Rothstein's police connections "genius."

"If you're surrounded by cops, no one will suspect you're a crook," Stone said.

Rothstein said this summer that the March 2008 murder of his friend and colleague, Melissa Britt Lewis, scared him into hiring full-time police guards, though he'd had bodyguards in the past.

"I am a businessman," he said. "I don't want to be followed home and shot."

High-ranking officers guarded lawyer accused in Ponzi scheme 11/15/09 [Last modified: Sunday, November 15, 2009 10:54pm]

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