FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A disbarred South Florida attorney agreed Wednesday to plead guilty later this month to charges arising from an alleged Ponzi scheme that cheated thousands of investors out of $1.2 billion.
U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn set a Jan. 27 change of plea date for Scott Rothstein, who in December pleaded not guilty to a five-count indictment that includes racketeering, conspiracy and fraud charges.
Rothstein attorney Marc Nurik said his client, who has been jailed without bail since his Dec. 1 arrest, is focused on returning as much money as possible to investors. Nurik said Rothstein's seized assets — two dozen pieces of real estate, numerous luxury cars, jewelry, bank accounts and more — are worth between $60 million and $100 million.
"He said from the very get-go he is going to accept responsibility for his actions," Nurik said. "My goal is getting money back to legitimate investors and determining who the legitimate investors are."
Rothstein, 47, said little at the hearing other than to answer a few of the judge's questions. The once-dapper attorney, now dressed in typical drab beige prison jumpsuit, was led in chains into the courtroom by U.S. Marshals.
Cohn approved a request from federal prosecutors to create an Internet site to help identify potential victim investors around the world. But Cohn said those that have already been identified must be contacted directly before Rothstein's guilty plea.
Nurik said details of Rothstein's plea agreement have yet to be finalized. Defendants who plead guilty and cooperate with federal investigators typically receive more lenient sentences, but Nurik said Rothstein is not helping prosecutors bring possible charges against others in the scheme.
"There's nothing to cooperate about," Nurik said. "I don't think the government needs him for that."
Prosecutors and the FBI have said their investigation is not over.
Rothstein is accused of using his now-defunct law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler to operate a Ponzi scheme involving supposedly lucrative investments in confidential legal settlements that turned out to be faked. The indictment says Rothstein used money from newer investors to pay off older ones — skimming millions for himself — in a typical Ponzi arrangement.
Politicians and political parties have returned thousands of dollars in contributions linked to Rothstein, who was close to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and many other state and national elected officials. All have said they were unaware Rothstein may have been involved in wrongdoing despite his over-the-top lavish lifestyle and seemingly unlimited access to cash.
Just as the scheme was unraveling in October, Rothstein fled in a private jet for Morocco after wiring $16 million to an account that he controlled there. He also carried with him some $500,000 in cash, according to court documents, but ultimately returned to South Florida before he was indicted.