Scott Rothstein (Melanie Bell)
In one of his more insidious acts, federal prosecutors say con man Scott Rothstein set up the ex-wife of a lawyer friend for arrest to sway a custody dispute.
On Friday, two suspended Broward sheriff’s deputies who made the arrest were charged with civil rights conspiracy.
Lt. David Benjamin was charged in a criminal information with accepting $185,000 from Rothstein to do his bidding, including trumping up false drug charges against Marcy Romeo, the ex-wife of Plantation attorney and admitted Rothstein co-conspirator Douglas Bates.
Detective Jeff Alan Poole also was accused of helping Benjamin set up Romeo.
Both men were placed on paid suspension when Sheriff Scott Israel took office in January 2013.
Benjamin also was accused of threatening a prostitute and her boyfriend who were about to expose the sexual dalliances of a law partner at Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler in Fort Lauderdale and helping Rothstein fly to Morroco with $500,000 cash and expensive jewelry when his $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme collapsed in October 2009.
Rothstein returned to the United States a short time later and is serving a 50-year prison sentence.
The charges show the long reach of Rothstein’s influence with former Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti, who was reelected with the Fort Lauderdale’s power broker’s assistance.
Benjamin ran the internal affairs division under Lamberti, and Poole was in the sheriff’s strategic investigations division, which investigated major drug trafficking.
The drug charges were dropped against Romeo, who then sued Benjamin.
Romeo moved out of Florida, but her attorney, Valentin Rodriguez of West Palm Beach, said the deputies abused their power as law enforcement officers.
“We are glad the U.S. attorney’s office finally took the necessary steps to bring to justice law enforcement officers who committed this horrible act against a civilian,” Rodriguez said. “In my opinion, this is probably the most egregious Rothstein act because it involved exploiting the privacy of an innocent person.”
U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer said in a news release on the new charges that Benjamin and Poole used their official positions to commit civil rights abuses to further the interests of one of Florida’s most notorious con men.
“When law enforcement officers betray the trust of the people, it strikes at the very core of our democracy,” Ferrer said. “When law enforcement officers violate the public’s trust, they will be held accountable.”
In two rounds of civil depositions, federal prosecutors cut off questions about Rothstein’s involvement with judges and police officers, and these are the first officers to be charged with Rothstein-related crimes.
The charge against Benjamin said he pocketed $153,000 in bribes and received another $32,000 in jewelry, sporting event tickets, meals and free transportation. About $1,000 was funneled to Benjamin from Rothstein for setting up Romeo as a favor to Bates, prosecutors charged.
Bates wanted to portray his ex-wife as a drug abuser to gain sole custody of their child. He is set for sentencing Thursday for writing two letters on his law firm’s letterhead vouching for Rothstein’s bogus settlement investment scheme.
Bates allegedly informed Rothstein about Romeo’s daily travels to arrange for her arrest. Poole pulled over Romeo’s car June 29, 2009, conducted an unauthorized search of her possessions and arrested her.
Poole’s attorney, Michael Gottlieb of Fort Lauderdale, said his client dealt with only Benjamin.
“My client was not involved with Rothstein. My client was involved with Benjamin who was involved Rothstein,” Gottlieb said.
Benjamin’s attorney Michael Dutko, a partner at Bogenschutz, Dutko & Kroll in Fort Lauderdale, did not return a call and email for comment by deadline.
Benjamin was accused of funneling his bribe money through his company, DWB Consulting Group LLC, which was set up against departmental policy, prosecutors said.
Benjamin also was called on to deliver threats to the prostitute and boyfriend, prosecutors charged.
“The law partner was concerned that the disclosure of his illicit relationship would ruin his career, his reputation and his marriage,” the charge against Benjamin states.
The woman was driven to the airport by two officers and instructed to return to her native Pennsylvania, the information stated.
Prosecutors also charged Benjamin helped Rothstein when he fled the country by carrying and jewelry aboard the private plane.
The charges were filed as criminal informations, usually a sign that the defendants have agreed to plead guilty and cooperate.
The U.S. attorney’s office has little time left to charge Rothstein co-conspirators to meet the five-year statute of limitations since the fraud caved in. Sources say negotiations with other key figures are heating up.
Rothstein’s former law partner, Russell Adler, and law firm CFO Irene Stay Shannon were charged in recent weeks.
A total of 20 people have been prosecuted so far for crimes associated with Rothstein and his wife, Kim Rothstein.