June 27--Russell Adler, once a senior partner in Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein's Fort Lauderdale law firm, was sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison Friday for illegally bundling campaign donations to a former Florida governor and a Republican nominee for president.
Adler, who pleaded guilty in April to breaking federal election laws in exchange for salary bonuses from Rothstein, had hoped for far less punishment after he apologized and confessed he was leaving his "profession in shame and disgrace." In court papers, the 52-year-old, disbarred lawyer had asked U.S. District Judge James Cohn to give him a probationary sentence or home confinement.
But that kind of lenient punishment was not in the cards -- despite his peripheral role in Rothstein's massive investment scam that imploded more than four years ago. Cohn ordered Adler to surrender to prison authorities on Sept. 29.
The judge, who sent Rothstein to prison for 50 years, said he needed to send a message of "deterrence" that there is a "price to be paid" when an attorney crosses the line. Cohn weighed whether to give Adler a prison term ranging from two years to 2-1/2 years, and opted for the higher sentence.
The judge noted that Adler may not have been involved in Rothstein's Ponzi scheme, but he helped illegally boost their law firm's image with fraudulent campaign contributions to high-profile politicians, such as former Gov. Charlie Crist and GOP presidential nominee John McCain.
"In 2008 and 2009, Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler was awash in cash," Cohn declared, referring to the once high-flying Las Olas Boulevard law firm. "Mr. Adler was at the epicenter, he was at ground zero. Was he blind and deaf as to what was going on?"
Some of his colleagues, including a Broward County judge, appeared to show their support in Fort Lauderdale federal court. Adler, who was admitted to practice law in 1986 after studying at Nova Southeastern University law school, is listed as "not eligible to practice" on the Florida Bar's website. He was formally disbarred earlier this month.
Defense attorney Fred Haddad, in court papers, urged Cohn to look at the totality of Adler's life as a once well-respected lawyer in Broward -- and not just at his misconduct with the notorious Rothstein. The disgraced lawyer was described by Haddad as the "ghost of Banquo," a literary reference to the army general killed by MacBeth in Shakespeare's play who returns as an apparition to haunt the English king.
Adler is among the most prominent of more than 20 lawyers, associates and other people convicted so far in connection with Rothstein's $1.2 billion investment swindle. The defunct Rothstein firm's other named partner, Stuart Rosenfeldt, who pleaded guilty to a similar conspiracy charge earlier this month, is the latest defendant to fall in the long-running probe.
Rothstein's investment racket collapsed in October 2009. Rothstein, who headed the 70-attorney law firm Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler, pleaded guilty in early 2010 and is hoping with his assistance in fingering his former partners and the other defendants to slice a chunk of time off his 50-year prison sentence.
According to his plea deal, Adler agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors by providing inside information on other former attorneys in Rothstein's defunct law firm.
Adler, however, has previously claimed to know nothing about Rothstein's scheme of selling fabricated legal settlements to wealthy investors from Florida, New York and other states.
In the plea agreement, Adler admitted that he illegally bundled hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to the campaigns of GOP presidential nominee McCain and U.S. Senate candidate Crist, Florida's former Republican governor. Crist is now running as a Democrat for governor again.
Adler collaborated with Rothstein and other law firm employees to donate the unlawfully bundled donations in 2008 and 2009, according to his statement filed with the agreement. Adler and other unnamed co-conspirators at the firm are accused of receiving salary bonuses as reimbursement for those personal expenses.
According to prosecutors, Rothstein funneled some of his fleeced investors' millions through the law firm to finance election campaign donations to fundraising committees for the McCain-Palin presidential ticket in 2008 and for then-Gov. Crist's bid for the U.S. Senate.
Rothstein's goal was "to increase the stature and apparent political power" of his law firm, according to prosecutors Lawrence LaVecchio, Paul Schwartz and Jeffrey Kaplan, who have led the sprawling investigation along with the FBI and Internal Revenue Service.
According to prosecutors, Adler contributed $80,000 to the McCain Victory Florida fund in June 2008 and that Rothstein's law firm reimbursed him $140,000, which included a salary bonus.
In October 2008, the charge claims, Adler donated another $124,000 to the McCain-Palin Victory fund and was repaid $143,000. The reimbursement check made out to Adler was "fraudulently backdated" to reflect that it was issued six days before his actual contribution, according to prosecutors.
Adler was among many Rothstein lawyers, employees and clients who attended a Crist fundraiser at the Ponzi schemer's waterfront home in late June 2009. The total haul for Crist's Senate campaign: $239,000. Adler's own donation to Crist was $2,400.
In 2010, after Rothstein's arrest on racketeering charges, Crist returned the contributions from the law firm and partners. The McCain campaign, however, had already distributed the donations to political action committees in battleground states.
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