Fort Lauderdale, Florida attorney, Scott Rothstein, is facing 30 years to life for his involvement in allegedly orchestrating one of the largest Ponzi schemes in South Florida history. On January 6, Rothstein told a federal judge in Broward County that he plans to plead guilty to his charges later in the month.
A little explanation about federal sentencing is in order here. When formulating a sentence, there are some basic elements that Rothstein’s judge is certain to consider. For starters, the Court will consider the nature of the charges which Rothstein will plead guilty to. The degree and maximum penalties will definitely set the tone.
Second, the judge will consider the magnitude of the offense, both in terms of how long it transpired and the net effect to its victims. In this case, Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme is said to have gone on for years and exceeded over $1.2 billion in stolen money. There is no doubt that the gargantuan nature of this theft will weigh heavily on the judge’s mind.
Third, the judge is likely to consider Rothstein’s character. While he has no prior criminal history, there is no doubt that Rothstein’s ostentatious lifestyle, which was lived at his victims’ expense, will certainly add to his time in prison. Additionally, Rothstein’s behavior as he awaited his arrest – such as having a martini lunch at Capitol Grille – will surely speak volumes to his judge.
Fourth, the fact that Rothstein returned from Morocco to face his charges and his victims, will likely serve to mitigate his sentence, especially since he had the means and opportunity to evade justice. Additionally, the judge will also consider any information or assistance Rothstein has provided to law enforcement in regards to its investigation. While Rothstein’s remorse is a textbook example of “too little, too late,” the judge will certainly listen to what he has to say and will give him some form of credit for taking responsibility, even though such credit may be minuscule.
Fifth, there is no doubt that the sentencing judge will give heavy weight to the fact that Rothstein abused his position of trust as a lawyer. Not only does it speak volumes about Rothstein himself, but there are public policy concerns that must be addressed as well. Like doctors, lawyers owe the public a level of care and concern that is above par. Not only did Rothstein fail to provide his clients with the level of care and concern that they were due, but he used his position of trust to violate his clients and steal their money. This behavior is despicable and will certainly be remembered by the sentencing judge.
Given the magnitude of the alleged Ponzi scheme and the fact that Rothstein lived large and loud at his victims’ expense, I expect him to get a minimum of 30 years in federal prison. To the extent that Rothstein receives credit for helping law enforcement and for returning to Fort Lauderdale to face justice, Rothstein may be spared from a life sentence.
At the end of the day, I expect that Rothstein’s end will only mark the beginning of this saga. There is no doubt that additional prosecutions and disbarments are well in the works.