Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, the Fort Lauderdale lawyer who spent the past five years handing out millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Florida politicians, says he has spent the past few months working undercover for the FBI.
The admission, made in letters and other documents filed in a bid to reduce the federal prison sentence he will get Wednesday, does not identify the people who may soon learn they have legal problems of their own.
The money Rothstein doled out to politicians came from victims of a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme. He faces a possible prison sentence of 100 years and has already surrendered millions of dollars in cash, cars, real estate and jewelry. His lawyer suggests a 30-year prison sentence would be adequate punishment. Rothstein pleaded guilty to multiple counts of fraud in January.
"Mr. Rothstein acknowledges that he not only stole other people's monies, he also used it to corrupt the political process and enhance his power for personal gain,'' attorney Marc S. Nurik noted in a sentencing memo filed Friday.
To make amends, he is helping the government bring to justice "those others who bear criminal responsibility in this and other matters,'' Nurik wrote.
The case against Rothstein, 47, is one of several state and federal investigations that have some of Tallahassee's best-known figures lawyering up and answering questions before grand juries. One of those investigations led to the indictment last week of former Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer on multiple counts of fraud.
Related investigations are continuing in Florida's three federal districts.
Rothstein's biggest contributions — more than $600,000 — went to the Republican Party of Florida, but he also gave $200,000 to the Florida Democratic Party. Other recipients include Gov. Charlie Crist, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and a handful of legislators and judicial candidates. Some of the money has been returned to a receiver handling his assets.
Last year, as Rothstein's scam began to unravel, he flew to Morocco with about $16 million in cash but agreed to come back and has remained in "protective custody'' while being "debriefed'' by federal agents.
He participated in numerous undercover operations and has helped federal officials and others piece together the complex financial deals that resulted in the charges against him, Nurik wrote.
In March, federal authorities arrested a suspected Italian Mafia member living in Miami Beach after Rothstein wore a wire to set up the case.
Nurik said the extent of Rothstein's "substantial cooperation'' will not be detailed at this time, but is likely to figure in future efforts to get his sentence reduced.
In a long letter to U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn, Rothstein said he lost his "moral compass'' while trying to create a law firm that would be seen as "the largest, the wealthiest, the most powerful.''
Rothstein says he became involved with others who helped him, but he does not name them. He fully expected to repay everyone but found himself spending all of his time trying to keep the scheme from blowing up in his face, he wrote.
At one point Rothstein said he sat in his shower in a business suit with a .357 Magnum up against his head but decided instead to leave the country and go to a place that had no extradition treaty with the United States. Upon further thought, he returned to the United States and surrendered to FBI agents.
After his return he spent a full month — hundreds of hours — talking to federal agents about his crimes "and the crimes of many others,'' Rothstein wrote. He said he expects to continue working with investigators for several years while remaining in a "protective custody unit'' and does not expect to see his wife and children again.