Christina Kitterman (Melanie Bell)
A federal jury took only about an hour Tuesday to convict Boca Raton attorney Christina Kitterman of illegally helping her law firm boss, Scott Rothstein, keep money flowing to his $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.
Kitterman, who testified in her own defense, was convicted of three counts of wire fraud conspiracy to end the first criminal trial in the long-running settlement financing fraud.
U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley in West Palm Beach did not set a sentencing date but said he would review trial transcripts to see whether Kitterman perjured herself, which could increase her sentence.
The defense made the calculated decision to call Rothstein, former chairman of the 70-attorney Fort Lauderdale firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, who made his first public appearance in years. He is serving a 50-year prison sentence for fleecing investors ranging from auto magnate Ed Morse to hedge fund managers. His testimony in two civil depositions was the foundation for the charges against Kitterman.
Rothstein testified at the federal trial that Kitterman helped him hoodwink New York hedge fund managers by pretending to be a Florida Bar official on a teleconference call.
“We are deeply disappointed. Scott Rothstein strikes again,” Rodriguez said after leaving court. Jurors “bought into his lies.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence LaVecchio told the 11-woman, one-man jury that Kitterman’s legal team no doubt regretted calling Rothstein to the stand.
“I submit to you it didn’t help,” he said. “They might not have liked the answers they got.”
Defense attorney Valentin Rodriguez said he didn’t regret calling Rothstein and plans an appeal.
In closing arguments, Rodriguez said his client was duped by her boss through a series of frantic phone calls and emails. Rodriguez said Kitterman simply was doing what Rothstein told her to do: confirm information she thought was true.
LaVecchio told jurors: “Scott Rothstein is telling the truth. Why should you believe Scott Rothstein—for the sole singular reason that his testimony is corroborated in every single respect.”
LaVecchio pointed to a series of emails between Rothstein and Kitterman on April 29, 2009, in which he asked her to pretend to be Florida Bar investigator Adria Quintela on a conference call with the hedge fund managers.
In an attempt to keep money flowing to his bogus settlement business, Rothstein got Kitterman to confirm there were 26 Bar complaints from plaintiffs against him because the hedge funds had stopped investing.
Kitterman worked for Rothstein from 2003 to October 2009 when the Fort Lauderdale firm imploded and Rothstein fled to Morocco.
Rodriguez told jurors: “She did not know what was going on. He is clever,” referring to Rothstein.
Kitterman testified she never followed Rothstein’s instructions to identify herself as Quintela.
Rodriguez told jurors Kitterman admits making a mistake in being duped by Rothstein, “but a mistake does not make you a criminal in federal court.”
Rodriguez reminded jurors that Rothstein indicated many others were complicit in the Ponzi scheme and have not been charged. The defense said Rothstein has helped convict more than a dozen low-level people, including his wife and uncle, who didn’t know the extent of the Ponzi scheme.
This is the first criminal trial tied to the Ponzi scheme. Another lawyer, Douglas L. Bates of Plantation, charged in the scam is scheduled to go on trial later this month.
Rodriguez said he wanted jurors to experience Rothstein’s outsized ego in 1½ days of testimony. “Did we get one direct response from Mr. Rothstein? He just talked. This was his day to shine, and he did it,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez also said the hedge fund managers, who were called as witnesses, were deceitful. He said the millionaires have been paid back in full through the defuncft law firm’s bankruptcy case and had become wise to his Ponzi scam.
“Both of them were playing schemes on each other because they (hedge fund managers) wanted their money back,” he said.
Rodriguez, who outlined his defense in a PowerPoint presentation, said his client had no specific intent to defraud, received no benefit, caused no harm and cooperated with the government by giving a statement without immunity.
LaVecchio kept it simple for the jurors, clearly concerned that Kitterman had garnered compassion through testimony that she was sexually harassed and bullied by Rothstein. He told the jury to convict Kitterman “without sympathy, without prejudice.” The prosecutor didn’t delve into testimony about Kitterman’s history of substance abuse or her alleged penchant for hanging out with organized-crime figures.
“She pretended to be someone she was not. She said things that weren’t true, and she did so to induce money,” LaVecchio said.
He said Kitterman, like others who have been convicted, played a role for Rothstein to help his Ponzi scheme. He said the phone call was crucial, allowing the scam to survive another six months.
“She took the stand and played a different role, a role designed to deceive you,” LaVecchio told jurors.