Russell Adler
Russell Adler (Melanie Bell)

Convicted con man Scott Rothstein’s former law partner pleaded guilty Friday to helping funnel illegal campaign contributions to former Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

In exchange for the guilty plea, attorney Russell Adler won’t face any charges related to Rothstein’s $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme run from the offices of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler in Fort Lauderdale. Prosecutors also agreed not to charge Adler’s spouse, Katie, with making illegal campaign contributions even though public records list her as a contributor.

“We are not going to charge him with anything else known to the government,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Kaplan told U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn at a short change-of-plea hearing in Fort Lauderdale.

Rothstein said in civil depositions that Adler knew of the Ponzi scheme. Though Adler’s name was on the law firm, he was not an equity partner like lawyer Stuart Rosenfeldt.

The question now remains whether Adler will cooperate with prosecutors and what he might have to offer. Adler’s attorney, Fred Haddad of Fort Lauderdale, denied Friday any knowledge of such cooperation.

Sources have told the Daily Business Review that Adler has information on bribery of public officials, including judges. Federal prosecutors have cut off that line of questioning in depositions and a trial.

“I believe Russell Adler was involved and will corroborate Rothstein’s statements in this regard,” said attorney William Scherer, a partner at Conrad & Scherer in Fort Lauderdale who has represented numerous investors cheated by Rothstein.

Under the plea agreement, Adler agreed to provide testimony and information to a grand jury. The agreement offers the carrot of a reduced sentence in exchange for Adler’s cooperation.

Haddad has said sentencing guidelines for one count of violating the Federal Campaign Act suggest Adler could serve from 18 months to three years in prison.

Rothstein was disbarred and is serving a 50-year prison sentence. He peddled influence among politicians to help inflate the profile of his Ponzi scheme, posting photographs in the law firm’s offices to impress would-be investors in his bogus settlement financing scheme.

Rothstein was determined to be the top contributor to McCain’s presidential campaign in Florida, former attorneys at the labor and employment firm said. Prosecutors said he masterminded a campaign contribution fraud in which law firm employee made political donations and received reimbursements from the firm listed as bonuses.

The criminal information filed against Adler this month said he donated $80,000 in June 2008 to the Arizona senator’s Florida campaign fund. Two weeks earlier, the law firm cut Adler a $140,000 check to cover his contribution.

Adler also was accused of being part of a group at the firm that contributed $124,000 to another McCain fund in October 2008. Around the same time, Adler received a check for $143,000 from the law firm that was backdated and labeled “bonus.”

Adler also made other contributions to Gov. Charlie Crist that came with law firm reimbursements, according to prosecutors.

Scherer lauded Haddad’s skills in reaching an agreement with the government but said others connected to Rothstein’s crimes may not be able to reach such a beneficial deal.

So far 18 people have been charged with crimes tied to Rothstein.

“Russell Adler is the luckiest man alive,” Scherer said. “He will be facing 30 months instead of 30 years. I don’t think those who are sitting on the sidelines and not pleading are going to be so lucky.”