An American lawyer has been jailed for 50 years for creating one of the largest ponzi schemes in American history.
Scott Rothstein, a Florida based employment lawyer, devised the scheme from the office of his law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. He was found to have duped around 400 victims to the tune of US$1.2 billion ($1.45 billion).
"This defendant has put himself in the pantheon of fraudsters," Assistant US Attorney Lawrence LaVecchio said.
Despite Federal prosecutors requesting a sentence of 40 years, US District judge James Cohn imposed a longer penalty, although one which was well short of the maximum 100 year term Rothstein faced for being convicted of his five charges.
Rothstein duped investors into parting with large sums of cash to buy stakes in legal settlements his firm had reputedly struck in employment disputes. It was later found that the settlements were created by Rothstein and his co-conspirator, Debra Villegas, the former chief operating officer at his firm.
Villegas pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit money laundering when her trial began last week. As part of her plea agreement, Villegas had to forfeit $1.2 million and return a Maserati given to her by Rothstein as a gift.
When Rothstein's fraud was discovered last October, he fled to Morocco, which doesn't have an extradition treaty with the USA. He said decided to return home after a period of "intense praying".
Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler was wound up shortly after charges were filed against Scott Rothstein and Debra Villegas. The firm had over 70 lawyers spread throughout eight offices in locations including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New York and Venezuela.
Rothstein maintained that no lawyers at the firm, outside of Villegas, or his wife, Kim, knew of the scheme. His former firm's bankruptcy trustee is seeking more than $1 million from Kim Rothstein, claiming she spent "well into the millions on jewellery purchases alone."
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