FEDS: Florida Attorney Conspired With Ponzi Schemer Scott Rothstein To Run Electioneering, Check-Kiting And Tax Scams And Prop Up Cash-Gushing Law Firm
Fort Lauderdale lawyer Steven N. Lippman conspired with now-disbarred attorney, convicted racketeer and Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein to prop up the Rothstein, Rosenfeldt and Adler (RRA) law firm through electioneering, check-kiting and tax scams, federal prosecutors charged yesterday.
A 70-attorney firm that employed about 150 staff members, RRA collapsed in the wake of Rothstein’s epic Ponzi caper, which operated from the disgraced firm and was exposed in 2009. The Miami region’s top federal prosecutor yesterday described the scheme as “mind-boggling.”
“The breadth, scope, and sheer complexity of Rothstein’s $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme is mind-boggling,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer. “Its success depended, in no small part, on the complicity of his colleagues and associates, like Steven Lippman. Lippman, an attorney, is now the ninth person to face criminal charges in connection with this scheme. As this investigation continues, I am sure that more will follow.”
Lippman, 49, of Plantation, now has been charged criminally with conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act, to defraud a financial institution and to defraud the United States.
The Alleged Electioneering Scam
It was the desire of Rothstein and others to “dramatically increase the stature and political power of RRA on the federal, state, and local level by making substantial political contributions to political candidates,” prosecutors said.
In line with that, Rothstein enlisted Lippman and others to donate to the 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain “by agreeing that RRA unlawfully would provide them with the funds to make the political contributions,” prosecutors said.
In one instance, prosecutors said, Lippman made a $67,800 contribution to McCain-Palin Victory 2008 — and received $77,500 back from RRA.
Then- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate on the Republican ticket in 2008. Neither she nor McCain has been accused of wrongdoing.
But Rothstein, through RRA, was interested in elevating his profile and improving his influence with politicians and political campaigns, prosecutors said.
The RRA check Lippman received “was fraudulently backdated to reflect that it was issued six days prior to the date of the actual contribution and the memo section of the check stated ‘bonus,” prosecutors said.
Various donations to GOP causes were “bundled” through the RRA firm — and Rothstein emerged a delegate to the 2008 Republican National Convention. Rothstein, in the midst of operating a colossal Ponzi caper, also was appointed to Florida’s 4th District Judicial Nominating Committee, which has sway “as to which persons should be nominated to be state appellate judges,” prosecutors charged.
The Alleged Check-Kiting Scam
With the RRA facing financial pressures in 2006, prosecutors said, Rothstein enlisted Lippman into a check-kiting scheme that involved an account at Lippman’s former law firm. The account at the former firm remained opened because the firm was still winding down its business when Lippman joined RRA in 2005.
Over time, prosecutors charged, Lippman issued checks from the former firm totaling more than $10.3 million. Those checks — “many” of which were written with insufficient funds in the account — were deposited into RRA accounts.
Rothstein and Lippman played the “float” on the checks to prop up the RRA firm and to “unlawfully obtain beneficial financing for RRA” by making it appear as though RRA had higher bank balances.
As was the case with the political donations, Lippman came out ahead by playing ball with Rothstein in the check-kiting scheme, according to the charging document. Although checks from the former Lippman firm routed through RRA totaled more then $10.3 million, Lippman deposited checks from RRA accounts totaling more than $10.6 million into the account of the former firm.
The Alleged Tax Scam
Lippman, prosecutors said, “defrauded the IRS by failing to report as income certain expense reimbursements and other reportable income he received from RRA.
The tax scam, prosecutors said, featured an agreement between Rothstein and Lippman that “Lippman would be paid a base salary and be given an expense account for which he would be fraudulently reimbursed for personal expenditures disguised as deductible business expenses”
Through the conspiracy, prosecutors charged, Lippman and RRA sought to “avoid paying additional federal income and employment taxes.”
“In addition,” prosecutors charged, “Lippman was paid from both the operating account and the payroll account of RRA, but would only receive an IRS Form W-2 reflecting the moneys paid to him through the payroll account. Lippman would not report to the Internal Revenue Service the moneys paid to him by RRA for expenses.”
“The charges against Steven Lippman show our resolve to unravel all the schemes in this complex financial fraud perpetrated by convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein and his co-conspirators,” said John V. Gillies, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami Office.
The probe in ongoing, Gillies said.
“It is disappointing that the number of people who chose wrong over right and participated with Rothstein in this massive fraud is at nine and rising,” he said.
The investigative efforts of the IRS are being led by José A. Gonzalez, special agent in charge of the IRS-Criminal Investigation Unit in Miami.