By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Although details of that meeting aren't known, Williams and Antonacci then began drafting a settlement agreement that precluded any criminal charges against Steinger as long as Mutual Benefits paid the cost of the state investigation and put several million dollars in an escrow account to pay premiums on old AIDS policies.
The agreement also forced the sale of Mutual Benefits Corp. to a new entity and barred Steinger from conducting "day-to-day activities of Mutual Benefits." However, it specifically allowed Steinger to remain as a "consultant."
In other words, Steinger would be free to keep playing the same con games he'd been playing.
The federal grand jury was still targeting Steinger, and the delinquent SEC — which should have shut down Steinger in 1998 — was finally getting back into the act. On May 4, 2004, just a week after Steinger's big legislative victory, the SEC shut down Mutual Benefits and cleaned out its offices.
Mutual Benefits was finally out of business, but Steinger was still a free man.
While his victims stew with anger at both the fraud and the seeming complicity of major political figures, Steinger sits in his riverfront mansion, awaiting federal trial on fraud and money-laundering charges related to the Mutual Benefits scandal.
Mutual Benefits is now being run by a federal receivership — and victims like Albert Scartz say they fear they'll never see any money back, especially after the lawyers involved in the receivership get their share.
When Leleen Montgomery, who lost half of her and her husband's life savings in the scam, was asked about the fraud last month, she still had never heard of Joel Steinger. She just wanted to know if there was any chance of her seeing her money back from the receivership.
But she says she hopes Steinger pays for his crimes. Many of his previous cohorts are already paying. Former Mutual Benefits President Peter Lombardi is serving a 20-year sentence. Clark Mitchell, the doctor who did as he was told, was sentenced to ten years. Many former employees are serving five-year sentences, including CFO Raquel Kohler; office manager Carol Traina; her husband, David Traina; manager Bari Wiggins; executive Ameer Khan; and attorney Stephen Ziegler.
Steinger's brother Leslie died of cancer last year. Joel Steinger was charged by the feds this past December, along with his other brother, Steven Steiner; and lawyers McNerney and Livoti.
There are still tens of millions of dollars still unaccounted for from Mutual Benefits, but don't expect Steinger to offer it up. He's been hit with multimillion-dollar federal fines and class-action-lawsuit judgments in the hundreds of millions. He pleads poverty, though he can still somehow afford a battalion of high-priced attorneys and upkeep on his mansion.
Those close to him say Steinger maintains his innocence and doesn't believe he'll be convicted. In fact, some believe he's still in the viatical business. His sister-in-law, Stacy Schultz, Leslie's widow, who was deeply involved in running Mutual Benefits, is now operating Life Insurance Exchange, a Fort Lauderdale company that has licenses to do business across the country. Schultz didn't respond to interview requests.
Steinger has had plenty of time to plan a comeback; he wasn't arrested until last December, and his upcoming trial has already been continued until 2011. Numerous court documents have been sealed from public view by U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan. Opinion seems split on whether the documents are sealed to protect the public officials or because those same public officials are soon to be indicted.
The lead attorney for Steinger in the federal case, Edward Shohat, says his client is not guilty of any of the charges. "I fully expect Joel Steinger to be vindicated in a federal court of law," says Shohat.
The prospect of Steinger's going free may seem preposterous, but he has managed several magic tricks in his past. The question remaining is whether he can, with the help of his money and well-heeled friends, pull off one more.
Go to BrowardPalmBeach.com to read last week's featured story, "Don of the Con," which details Joel Steinger's criminal past.