Stripped of his freedom by the FBI early Tuesday, disgraced Fort Lauderdale, Fla., lawyer Scott Rothstein appeared in a packed Fort Lauderdale federal courtroom and was accused by prosecutors of using forged judicial signatures to defraud investors as part of a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.
Wearing a brown designer T-shirt and blue jeans, Rothstein, 47, appeared nonchalant as he stood in handcuffs and leg restraints before U.S. Magistrate Robin Rosenbaum, who ordered him held without bail because he is a flight risk.
Agents arrested Rothstein in the early morning hours and took him to FBI headquarters in North Miami Beach. He was then transported to U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale for his initial appearance.
John V. Gillies, special agent in charge of the Miami FBI office, called Rothstein’s crime, “arguably the largest fraud in Miami’s history.”
In a criminal information filed with the court, prosecutors charged him with five counts, including racketeering conspiracy that includes mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Between 2005 and 2009, the government said, Rothstein took millions in investor money in a scheme that focused on the sale of confidential settlements of legal disputes. By statute, a conviction on all charges could result in 100 years in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Schwartz told Rosenbaum that during the alleged multi-year scheme, Rothstein concocted phony orders and forged the signatures of judges’ names including those of federal judges and a District Court of Appeal judge.
The forging of those documents, Schwartz declared, “goes to the heart of our justice system.”
Prosecutors said Rothstein forged signatures on judicial orders to scam friend and auto magnate Ed Morse out of $57 million, which went to pay investors in the Ponzi scheme.
Prosecutors made a reference to unidentified co-conspirators but did not elaborate.
Neither did acting U.S. Attorney Jeff Sloman, who refused to give details on the many accusations made in the information or the alleged co-conspirators. He did say that Rothstein was brazen in his crimes by forging judges’ names and bilking his own clients.
“That is a height of chutzpah,” Sloman said. “This is one of a small handful of cases in which a law firm has been named as a RICO [racketeering] enterprise.”