Christina Kitterman (Melanie Bell)
A former attorney in Scott Rothstein’s firm testified on her own behalf Monday that she was sexually harassed, stalked and bullied by the lawyer-turned-con-man.
Christina Kitterman is accused of helping Rothstein extend the life of his failing $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme for six months by pretending to be a Florida Bar official in a ruse to keep money flowing from New York hedge fund investors.
Rothstein testified last week that Kitterman was inept on the job and a party girl after hours who needed little arm twisting to do illegal or unethical things for him—even if she didn’t know the full extent of his settlement financing fraud.
Kitterman testified when she joined the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm in 2003, she immediately had to ward off Rothstein’s sexual advances. She said he threatened to fire her numerous times and called her names like “idiot.” Rothstein also had a knack for showing up at the same public place as Kitterman, such as restaurants.
“Mr. Rothstein had a temper. He was one of those people who had two sides,” Kitterman said. “He was a very scary person, but he could be a very kind.”
Kitterman faces three counts of wire fraud conspiracy. Closing statements before Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley in West Palm Beach were expected Tuesday.
Rothstein’s mistreatment of women in his firm has been a key component to Kitterman’s defense. The 12-member jury has 11 women on it.
Kitterman said she never thought about filing a sexual harassment complaint against Rothstein with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“I was a new lawyer,” she said. “I was scared. I just couldn’t do something like that.”
Kitterman testified Rothstein’s harassment of her ended when she went to the firm’s only other equity partner, Stuart Rosenfeldt, in 2006 and asked to be reassigned so she didn’t work directly with the firm’s chairman.
Sometimes the Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde aspect of Rothstein’s personality would be present at the same time, she said. In one email placed in evidence by the defense, Rothstein threatened to fire the whole staff over billing procedures only to sign off the memorandum by telling the 70 lawyers in the firm how much he loved them.
“He would send out these emails that were very crazy, quite frankly,” she said.
Kitterman also said he would threaten repeatedly that if she looked for another job, he would ruin her law career. She also refuted several key areas of Rothstein’s testimony.
Kitterman said she was strong-armed by Rothstein to donate to political candidates of his choosing. She said sometimes she would get reimbursed but had no idea that was a violation of campaign financing laws.
“I don’t practice election law. I don’t follow politics. I didn’t realize it was illegal,” Kitterman testified. She does not face donation-related charges.
The lawyer, now practicing in Boca Raton, said the political atmosphere in the law firm was surreal at times. Gov. Charlie Crist would have the run of the office, pigeonholing attorneys for campaign contributions.
She said perks Rothstein said he gave her, such as access to his luxury box for Miami Dolphins games, were on a first-come-first-served basis when tickets became available, and she was not singled out for special treatment.
As for a phone call at the center of the case, Kitterman said she thought she was talking to law firm clients who were reneging on paying settlements, not hedge fund managers. She said she did not identify herself on the call as Adria Quintela, a Bar investigator in Fort Lauderdale. Kitterman said she ignored that instruction from Rothstein because she was unsure how to pronounce Quintela’s name.
“I couldn’t say no. Scott Rothstein was in trouble, and our firm was in trouble,” Kitterman testified.
Kitterman was poised and likable on the stand. She broke down once in tears when questioned about her friend, Melissa Britt Lewis, an RRA attorney who was murdered. The ex-husband of the firm’s COO, Debra Villegas, a Kitterman confidante who is in prison for assisting Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme, faces a murder trial in September.
After a long sidebar, the prosecution asked Kitterman about how Rothstein helped her get into a drug rehabilitation center for her addiction to alcohol and cocaine.
Kitterman, under caustic cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Schwartz, said she would thank Rothstein for standing by her on the anniversary of her sobriety date every year.
Schwartz was incredulous that she would send a thank you email to a harassing boss, but Kitterman said the harassment had ended by then and she was enjoying her work at the firm immensely. She now practices a 12-step recovery program and said she remains clean and sober.
Valentin Rodriguez, one of Kitterman’s attorneys, said, “Ironically, one of the 12 steps is to be completely honest and open.”