As disbarred attorney Scott Saidel headed for his car Monday after being sentenced to three years in federal prison for helping Kim Rothstein hide jewelry from federal agents, he said he was thankful he was wasn’t taken into custody right away.
All Saidel wanted to do was get home to Boca Raton where his dog was dying of cancer.
Saidel wept as he addressed U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum, apologizing to the judge, prosecutors, friends, family and the woman who basically had ruined his life: Kim Rothstein.
She is scheduled to be sentenced next month by Rosenbaum. Saidel told the Fort Lauderdale judge she “would not find herself standing here in this very same spot at a later time if I had simply been a better lawyer.”
The congenial attorney lost his profession and his marriage and will soon lose his freedom for trying to help Rothstein hide money she made selling jewelry and other items purchased with money from investors in a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme run by her attorney-husband Scott Rothstein.
Saidel was charged with conspiracy to launder money, obstruct justice and tamper with a witness.
Defense attorney Tama Beth Kudman of West Palm Beach told Rosenbaum her client was in over his head when Kim Rothstein came to him for help and was “being more of a friend than a lawyer.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence D. LaVecchio took exception to Saidel’s letter to the court that depicted his crime as an error in judgment. He noted the money was deposited carefully in Saidel’s trust account over a long period of time to avoid the attenation of the Internal Revenue Service.
Then there was the plan to approach Scott Rothstein, who is serving a 50-year prison sentence, to lie in a deposition about the missing $1 million worth of jewels, LaVecchio said. Kim Rothstein, Saidel and others wanted Rothstein testify that 12-carat yellow diamond ring and a loose diamond were sold to a jeweler who died after the fraud collapsed in October 2009.
Kim Rothstein’s gambled that nobody would notice the missing jewels, but the bankruptcy trustee for Rothstein’s law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, and the jeweler who sold him the items were intent on tracking them down to reimburse Ponzi victims.
LaVecchio also didn’t cut Saidel any slack for his contention that he was overwhelmed by Kim Rothstein’s legal problems.
“Being in over your head is no excuse for criminal conduct,” he said.
Rosenbaum agreed, calling Saidel’s crime very serious for an attorney.
“We simply cannot allow lawyers thinking that it’s OK, that the ends justify the means, that they can do anything they have to do for their client,” Rosenbaum said during the hearing.
‘Last Man Standing’
But she did cut Saidel a break. He faced up to five years in prison, but the judge gave consideration to his volunteer work as an emergency medical technician and other charitable work.
About two dozen spectators attended the hearing as a personal show of support, and many wrote letters to Rosenbaum calling for leniency. He has until Nov. 21 to surrender to begin serving his sentence.
Saidel agreed to disbarment by The Florida Bar in August and has forfeited $65,000 in fees he got from Rothstein.
The drama is far from over. Kim Rothstein and her best friend, Stacie Weisman, are scheduled to be sentenced next month.
They are expected to testify against a Fort Lauderdale jeweler and an alleged fence charged in the diamond scam. It would be the first criminal trial related to the Rothstein scam.
Saidel, though, could not get credit for substantial assistance in the upcoming prosecution because the jewels had been sold by the time he received the money from Rothstein.
“Unfortunately, he was the last man standing,” LaVecchio said.