Scott Rothstein (Melanie Bell)
Disbarred attorney Scott Rothstein, who organized a $1.2 billion Ponzi scam, said on the witness stand Thursday that he and a lawyer on trial altered a client’s file to avoid a legal malpractice suit.
Rothstein, who is serving a 50-year prison sentence, said he and defendant Christina Kitterman doctored the file to make it look like work had been performed for Automatic Slims, a Fort Lauderdale restaurant and bar that has since closed.
“I lied for her,” said Rothstein, who said he and his former employee at Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler had both a romantic and “quid pro quo” relationship.
Kitterman, who now practices in Boca Raton, worked for Rothstein’s one-time powerful Fort Lauderdale law firm that went under when Rothstein’s settlement financing fraud imploded in October 2009.
She faces three federal wire fraud conspiracy counts for allegedly pretending to be a Florida Bar investigator to help Rothstein keep money flowing in from New York hedge funds. Rothstein testified Kitterman’s impersonation in April 2009 allowed the Ponzi scheme to survive until the fall.
Rothstein, a defense witness who was at times combative with defense attorney Valentin Rodriguez, indicated Kitterman was more than willing to break the law or act unethically.
Rodriguez asked Rothstein how he could verify his accusations since there was no malpractice lawsuit or Florida Bar complaint from the owner of Automatic Slims.
Kitterman was “in on the game,” Rothstein said. “She was at meetings where we discussed illegality.”
He said she also helped him illegally funnel a campaign contribution to U.S. Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign.
Rothstein testified he showered Kitterman with perks, such as access to his luxury box on the 50-yard line at Miami Dolphins games and his exclusive parties.
He also said Kitterman frequented the Fort Lauderdale restaurant Anthony’s Runway 84 and was good friends with organized crime figures, such as Danny “the Baker” Samela, who was convicted of crimes tied to the Gambino crime family.
Rodriguez asked Rothstein if he had traded lying for money for lying to get a lower sentence, saying the ex-lawyer was now engaged in a “Ponzi scheme of lies.”
Ever The Showman
Prosecutors have asked for a lighter sentence based on Rothstein’s cooperation, but he admits he may have jeopardized his chances by lying to protect his wife, Kim Rothstein, who is custody for hiding profits from the Ponzi.
“See these,” Rothstein said lifting up his hands to show his handcuffs. “I’m in prison for 50 years. I will die there.”
He was more of a showman during his second day on the witness stand than he was Wednesday, repeatedly turning toward the jury to address questions as if giving a lecture on how to run a fraud.
He again stated he had helped recover “every penny” lost by his investors even though he didn’t have to return from Morocco, where he briefly fled when the scheme collapsed.
“Name one person who fled to a non-extradition country and voluntarily came back,” he challenged.
Rothstein also bragged about his pull with then-Gov. Charlie Crist.
“I expected him to do certain things in exchange for large contributions,” Rothstein testified.
He also said his law firm curried favor with some Broward circuit judges by making sure they knew it had donated large amounts to their re-election campaign.
Rothstein is in witness protection because he cooperated against organized crime figures. Federal marshals refused to allow a courtroom artist to draw him Thursday because of those concerns.
On cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Schwartz, Rothstein said Kitterman followed a script he gave her for the conference call with the hedge funds. The hedge fund managers had gotten suspicious and stopped sending money to Rothstein’s fake investment business.
The government was expected to conclude its case Thursday.
Rothstein’s former law partner Stuart Rosenfeldt had been expected to testify next week. Rosenfeldt’s attorney, Bruce Lehr, told the Daily Business Review that the subpoena was withdrawn by Kitterman’s defense after Rosenfeldt indicated he would exercise his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions.