MIAMI – A high-profile South Florida lawyer suspected of orchestrating a multimillion-dollar fraud sent his partners a text message from overseas apologizing and calling himself "a fool."
"Sorry for letting you all down," Scott Rothstein wrote Oct. 31 to his partners at the law firm he co-founded. "I am a fool. I thought I could fix it but got trapped by my ego and refusal to fail and now all I have accomplished is hurting the people I love."
The text message, sent from Morocco, goes on to ask the partners to protect his wife, Kim, and adds that "neither she nor any of you deserve what I did. I hope God allows me to see you on the other side. Love, Scott."
The message to attorneys at Fort Lauderdale firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler was first reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and verified Wednesday by firm spokesman Charles Jones.
A court-appointed receiver and federal investigators are looking into allegations made by firm co-founder Stuart Rosenfeldt and a growing list of investors that Rothstein, 47, may have misappropriated millions of dollars from a side investment business involving legal settlement payouts. Attorneys for investors have said the fraud could easily exceed $100 million.
In the text message, Rothstein said he had three options: take his own life, live "on the lam as a fugitive" or return to Florida to face a federal investigation. Rothstein flew back Tuesday to Fort Lauderdale, where he met with federal prosecutors and investigators even as a judge issued an order removing him as chief executive officer of his seven-year-old law firm.
No criminal charges have been filed. Rothstein's attorney, Marc Nurik, declined comment Wednesday on whether any further meetings were scheduled and refused to discuss Rothstein's whereabouts.
The side investment business being investigated involved what are known as "structured" legal settlements — typically those in which the money award is paid out over time. Rothstein told investors he had thousands of such settlements in which the award winner preferred a lower lump sum rather than accepting a higher amount in installments. The investors could pocket the profit.
The court-appointed receiver, retired Miami judge Herbert Stettin, and federal investigators are now trying to unravel how much of the business was real and how much money may have been lost. One law firm partner, Grant Smith, said the 150-employee firm at one point had only $500,000 left in operating cash, although more was coming in from ongoing cases.
"By the hour, it gets worse," said Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney who represents Rosenfeldt.
Rothstein, who lives lavishly, has been a major contributor to charities and politicians around the country. The state Democratic and Republican parties are both returning tens of thousands of dollars in Rothstein's donations, and Gov. Charlie Crist is giving back $9,600 from his U.S. Senate campaign.