FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A reputed Italian mobster linked to a massive Ponzi scheme pleaded guilty Wednesday to money laundering conspiracy charges brought after the FBI recorded him agreeing to destroy evidence and hide cash from the $1.2 billion fraud scam.
Roberto Settineri, a 42-year-old Italian citizen who worked as a Miami Beach wine merchant, will likely get about four years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 3, said his attorney Jeffrey Weiner. He also faces deportation to Italy after prison.
Settineri was swept up in March in a high-profile series of arrests in Italy and the U.S. that were billed by authorities in both countries as a major takedown of international organized crime. At the time, Settineri's role was described as attempting to broker new illicit business dealings between the Gambino and Colombo crime families in New York and the Mafia in Sicily.
Despite the supposed top-level Mafia connections, Weiner said there are no other charges against Settineri pending in either Italy or New York.
Settineri was snared in Florida after ex-attorney Scott Rothstein — now serving a 50-year sentence for operating the Ponzi scheme — worked with the FBI to meet with the purported mobster and record conversations between them about shredding records and laundering $10 million from the scam.
Settineri agreed to help Rothstein, whom he knew from their association with a South Beach restaurant in the mansion once owned by slain fashion designer Gianni Versace. At the time, Rothstein had not been arrested and was secretly cooperating in FBI sting operations.
"He wanted to help someone he thought was a friend," Weiner said. "He took the bait hook, line and sinker."
Along with two associates, FBI recordings show that Settineri agreed to destroy two boxes of financial records for Rothstein in return for $69,000, as well as help launder the $10 million through art purchases. The two associates also pleaded guilty.
According to a plea agreement, Rothstein gave Settineri a costly Marina Panerai watch commemorating the Florida Marlins' 2003 World Series victory that Rothstein claimed he had hidden from Ponzi scheme investigators. Regarding destruction of the documents, Settineri at one point said "that he would eat the papers if needed" and also discussed shipping them to Palermo, Italy, for safekeeping.
Weiner said Settineri refused to cooperate in other investigations, but decided to plead guilty to avoid a potential 30-year prison sentence if the case went to trial.
"He was actively targeted and set up by Rothstein, and my client did make a terrible mistake in judgment," Weiner said.
Although Rothstein's criminal case is over, the Justice Department is still trying to figure out how many investors and former clients of his law firm have legitimate claims for restitution. Prosecutors filed papers this week containing a new figure of $317.5 million owed by Rothstein to his victims.
Authorities have seized bank accounts and are selling off numerous pieces of Rothstein's former real estate, cars and boats, jewelry and other assets. But most victims will likely get only a fraction of what they lost.
Rothstein's scam involved investments in supposedly lucrative confidential legal settlements, most of which were fictional.