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Colleagues show off office of lawyer accused in Ponzi scheme

Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein's office was a secured inner sanctum, complete with video cameras, secured entrance and hidden private elevator.

It also was a shrine to himself, plastered with photos showing Rothstein embracing powerful politicians, framed thank-you letters from charities and candidates he lavished with generous donations, grownup toys like red Ferrari model cars and a Nixon action figure.

Amid a federal investigation into allegations that Rothstein was running a massive Ponzi scheme, his law partners at Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler invited the media to tour the private office Thursday. A hired PR man and a lawyer portrayed the office's opulence, security and compartmentalized layout as evidence that even the partners were bamboozled by their hard-charging friend and colleague.

"Many people asked how is it possible that the attorneys didn't know about Mr. Rothstein's alleged activities?'' said spokesman Charles Jones. "We attempted to describe how Mr. Rothstein walled himself off from the firm. We believe the only way to get that message through was to show the layout of the office and the security system.''

Investors and law partners have accused Rothstein, 47, of cleaning them out of well over $100 million in a purported side business that he ran under the mantle of the law firm. He has been cooperating with U.S. prosecutors since his return from Morocco on Tuesday, providing details and identifying others who may have been involved.

Rothstein, who has not been charged, is staying at an undisclosed location in South Florida under federal surveillance. On Tuesday, a judge removed him as chief executive officer of the firm and appointed a receiver to unravel its finances.

The tour came just hours after FBI and IRS agents raided the firm Wednesday night. Agents left at 3:15 a.m. Thursday with 44 boxes of documents, including financial and computer records and the key to Rothstein's Ferrari.

Firm co-founder Stuart Rosenfeldt has said he had no clue about Rothstein's alleged investment scam, and that Rothstein alone handled all firm finances. Some legal observers find that difficult to swallow.

Attorney William Scherer, who represents a dozen investors out some $80 million, said Thursday that lawsuits are in the works against banks, insurance policies and Rothstein's assets.

But Jones and attorney Kendall Coffey — a former U.S. attorney who was hired to represent the firm just before the scandal broke last weekend — held the tour to show how other lawyers might not have known what Rothstein was doing.

Anyone entering Rothstein's suite of offices had to use an intercom. If Rothstein wanted to leave without being seen, he could exit through a second door. In the hallway, what appears to be an ordinary looking brown door is actually the elevator door.

Coffey described that elevator as "an extraordinary feature not seen in any law firm.''

Dozens of surveillance cameras and microphones hang from office ceilings. They were turned off a few days ago and federal authorities were given access to whatever had been previously recorded, Coffey said.

Outside Rothstein's personal office: a painting of Al Pacino as his character Michael Corleone in The Godfather.

The walls of Rothstein's office and other hallways are lined with framed photos of the lawyer with politicians including Gov. Charlie Crist, former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, U.S. Sen. John McCain and Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti.

In one photo, Rothstein and Crist are blowing out the candles together on Crist's birthday cake. In another, they are standing together at the Versace mansion at a Rothstein-hosted fundraiser, where he served Kobe beef carpaccio, imported cheeses and chocolate souffle. Rothstein was part owner of the South Beach mansion.

The photos depict a man about town, sporting a huge grin with his arm around powerful figures, sometimes chomping on a cigar.

On his desk: four computer screens and the five Books of Moses.

"He lived like a high roller, a very flashy lifestyle, the life of the rich and famous — until it all came crashing down,'' Coffey said.

Coffey and Jones released the FBI's seized-inventory list, which included trust account statements, bank logs, documents about Banyon Investment deposits, records from Toronto Dominion Bank and Gilbraltar Private Bank & Trust, and Rothstein's credit card records.

Fort Lauderdale-based Banyon was one of Rothstein's biggest investors in his "structured settlement'' fund. The alleged investment scheme entailed the sale of fabricated lawsuit settlements at a discount to investors. They fronted reduced payouts to plaintiffs and then collected profitable returns when the settlements were paid in full.

The accounts for Banyon and other Rothstein investors were held at a Toronto Dominion branch in Fort Lauderdale. TD Bank spokeswoman Rebecca Acevedo told the Associated Press that the bank "will work with the authorities to the fullest extent'' and is also conducting its own internal review of Rothstein's accounts.

Coral Gables-based Gibraltar Private Bank issued a statement saying the firm has payroll and other operations accounts with the bank and that officials have been in touch with the court-appointed receiver for the law firm.

Records also was taken from the offices of chief operating officer Debra Villegas and Irene Stay, chief financial officer.

Herald staff writers Nirvi Shah and Diana Moskovitz contributed to this report.

Colleagues show off office of lawyer accused in Ponzi scheme 11/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 5, 2009 9:16pm]

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