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Scott Rothstein’s 50 Year Sentence Explained

Convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein was sentenced to 50 years in prison just a few moments ago. U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn rendered the sentence after a lengthy hearing in Fort Lauderdale’s Federal courthouse this morning.

When a Federal judge calculates an offender’s prison sentence, there are always a set number of factors that she or he considers. They are:

1) The nature of the crime.
2) Victim input.
3) Defendant’s character, including criminal history.
4) Prosecutor’s recommendation.
5) Defense recommendation.
6) Findings and recommendations of any pre-sentence investigation.

Given the enormous magnitude of Rothstein’s crime and the immeasurable harm he inflicted on his victims, there were only two likely reasons why Judge Cohn did not impose the maximum sentence of 100 years.

First, the U.S. Attorney’s Office gave official recognition to Rothstein’s cooperation when it recommended a sentence of 40 years. Not only did Rothstein return from being on the lam, but he pleaded guilty and cooperated with law enforcement. This cooperation wasn’t minor. Rather, it included recovery of victim assets and the arrest of a major mafia figure.

Second, credit must be given when a defendant pleads guilty from the start and owns up to his actions. This is especially the case when the defendant had the opportunity to run, but chose not to.

Ultimately, this analysis calls for two considerations. First is to determine whether or not an offender deserves any mitigation. If so, the next question is obvious: how much?

In this case, Judge Cohn likely balanced the net results of Rothstein’s efforts to aid the victims and nab the mafia figure against the utterly egregious nature of his offense. Ultimately, I think the question came down to whether nor not Judge Cohn was going to give Rothstein any life outside of prison as an elderly man.

At age 47, Rothstein will likely live the remainder of his natural life behind bars. In a sense, it is as if Judge Cohn let nature decide whether Rothstein will see life as a free person again. If he lives long enough, he may get the chance. If not, then too bad.

In my opinion this is a fair sentence.

While we must incentivize future offenders to cooperate, some crimes are just so bad that mitigation truly is meaningless. Even at the expense of losing future cooperation, some crimes require harsh sentences.

Sometimes, principles matter. This case is one of them. Rothstein got what he deserved.

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