Russell Adler (Melanie Bell)
Disbarred attorney Russell Adler said Scott Rothstein didn’t initially want to put Adler’s name on his Fort Lauderdale law firm.
But Adler insisted, telling a federal judge Friday that he wanted to make sure his clients could find him at his newly christened firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler.
The firm would rise to become one of the most powerful in South Florida only to collapse in October 2009 when Rothstein faced too many demands for money in his $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.
“Being the A in RRA turned into an ironic curse that has ruined my name and haunts and humiliates me to this day,”
he told U.S. District Judge James Cohn in Fort Lauderdale before he was sentenced to 30 months in prison for making illegal campaign contributions at Rothstein’s behest.
Cohn opted for the high-end of the advisory guidelines after expressing doubts about whether Adler was completely in the dark about the Ponzi scheme built on bogus court settlements.
“In 2008 and 2009, RRA was awash with cash, and Mr. Adler was at the epicenter. He was at ground zero,” the judge said. “Was he blind and deaf as to what was going on?”
Adler pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate U.S. campaign finance laws but not to any crimes directly tied to the scam.
He was reimbursed by Rothstein for about $200,000 in contributions to the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. John McCain in 2008 and another $5,000 to former Gov. Charlie Crist, according to the criminal information.
Cohn asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence LaVecchio how the crime benefited Rothstein’s fraud. He said the political contributions “certainly cloaked Rothstein with respectability that he could flaunt” to would-be investors in his scam.
Rothstein’s labor and employment firm of 70 lawyers couldn’t support itself without the fraud.
Adler’s 27-year legal career is now in ruins. The Florida Bar initially suspended him for lying to a New York co-op board about his income in the purchase of an apartment. He failed to tell the board about using a payroll advance from Rothstein.
Last month, Adler was disbarred based on his plea in April. His marriage also crumbled in the wake of RRA’s collapse and the imprisonment of its founder for 50 years.
Even Adler’s success as a lawyer following RRA’s collapse in October 2009 didn’t play well with Cohn, who noted Adler still owed the Internal Revenue Service significant unpaid taxes despite income of $425,000 in 2012.
The other partner in the RRA name, Stuart Rosenfeldt, is scheduled to be sentenced on a fraud conspiracy plea on Sept. 24. In one instance, he was accused of ordering a corrupt sheriff’s officer to strong arm a prostitute who threatened to reveal their relationship.
LaVecchio told Cohn that Adler had come in of his own volition and provided information that helped other prosecutions that have been and will be filed.
The attorney’s supporters wrote numerous letters praising Adler. Two spoke at his sentencing, one a woman who said he took her case pro bono when her daughter suffered a severe brain injury in car accident.
The other was Michael Gudewicz, who said he was homeless until Adler took him under his wing, giving him shelter at his condominium and helping him apply for assistance.
“There is no way I will ever be able to repay him,” Gudewicz said. “He is my guardian angel.”
Cohn noted Adler was getting a slightly lower prison term than RRA attorney Stephen Lippman, whom he also sentenced. Adler said he, like everyone else, was used by Rothstein.
“I was put in this position by someone I trusted implicitly,” he said.
Cohen ordered Adler to surrender to begin his sentence Sept. 29.