When fallen Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein returned from Morocco last November after his Ponzi scheme blew up, he went straight into the womb of the federal government, where he immediately began working as an informant.

Rothstein, who talked his way into a $1.2 billion bogus investment scheme, would now try to talk his way out of life in prison.

Working out of a hotel room under the watch of federal agents, Rothstein wore a wire and began trying to make cases against former associates. The problem was, Rothstein was all over the South Florida media and had made national news as well. All signs pointed to the fact that Rothstein, although he was out of prison during November, was cooperating with the feds. Nobody could believe the government would allow the man who had committed perhaps the greatest economic crime in South Florida history to run free.

Who could possibly be dumb enough to fall into such an obvious Rothstein trap?

Meet Roberto Settineri.

He's a stout and balding fellow from Palermo who has lived in Miami for several years and become a naturalized U.S. citizen. State corporate records show he has owned several wine companies, but federal agents say he's a Sicilian Mafia associate who has played a key role as conduit between the Italian Mob and the New York-based Gambino and Colombo crime families that have extensive interests in South Florida.

Rothstein knew Settineri, apparently through a Fort Lauderdale-based company called Five Star Executive Protection & Security. After Rothstein bought a stake last year in Casa Casuarina, the former Versace mansion on South Beach, he brought Five Star in to do 24-hour security there. The company was owned by two Settineri associates, Enrique Ros of Miami and Daniel Dromerhauser of Pembroke Pines.

The feds were familiar with Settineri too. The New York FBI office was in the midst of a long-term investigation of a reputed Gambino Mob soldier and New York meat company owner named Gaetano Napoli. Last year, that investigation led agents to a "sit-down" in Pompano Beach among the 71-year-old Gaetano, Settineri, and members of the Colombo crime family, according to federal prosecutors.

During the meeting, Settineri referenced his affiliation with the Sicilian Mob, piquing the FBI's interest in him. The problem was, they had no case on Settineri — that is, until Rothstein went to work.

After returning from Morocco, Rothstein contacted Settineri and Five Star's Ros and Dromerhauser. According to federal court documents, the sting was fairly simple: Rothstein told them he needed two boxes of financial documents destroyed and some Ponzi proceeds laundered.

The records were represented to have been subject to a federal grand jury subpoena involving the Rothstein Ponzi case. Settineri took the bait, according to the indictment, and in November received $79,000 in what he allegedly believed were Rothstein's ill-gotten gains.

Simultaneous to Rothstein's work and the New York FBI case against Napoli and his two sons, the Italian government was investigating Settineri's brethren in Palermo. The polizia's investigation centered on members of the Santa Maria de Gesù crime family and its alleged leaders, brothers Giacchino and Giampolo Corso.

March 10 was D-Day for all three prongs of the investigation. In Miami, federal agents say they arrested Settineri just before he was about to board a plane back to Italy. They also arrested Five Star's Dromerhauser. Ros initially couldn't be found but was arrested last week. All three have been charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying the documents and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Federal agents also picked up Napoli and his two sons, Thomas and Gaetano Jr., who happened to be in North Carolina. They were hit with a slew of charges related to threatening an alleged extortion victim, tampering with a grand jury witness, and lying in a bankruptcy case involving their New York business, Napoli & Sons Meats & Provisions.

Meanwhile, police in Palermo took down a total of 19 reputed members and associates of the Sicilian Mob crew, including the Corso brothers. Among the charges: drug trafficking, attempted murder, money laundering, and extortion.

Rothstein, meanwhile, remained behind bars on five Ponzi-related counts that could put him behind bars for 100 years. But his work on the Mafia case may make sure that we never know where he is located again.

In late February, the Ponzi schemer was transferred out of the Federal Detention Center in Miami and apparently relocated to the St. Lucie County Jail. The move was for his security before the announcement of the Mafia arrests.

He has since apparently been moved from the St. Lucie facility. It's speculated that he has, or will be, put in the federal witness protection program. Rothstein, who has already pleaded guilty, is scheduled for sentencing in May.

Questions abound, including just how much time U.S. District Judge James Cohn will hand down to Rothstein. In light of the Mafia case and his vast cooperation in the Ponzi case and potential law enforcement and public corruption cases, some speculate that Rothstein may get a significant break.

The problem for those who want to see Rothstein pay dearly for his crimes is that now, no matter what sentence Cohn metes out, we may not be able to track him in the future. Rothstein will become a veritable ghost while the damage that he has caused Broward County will linger for years.


Broward Mayor Gets an Opponent

Radio vet says she'll take on Ken Keechl.

Broward political veteran and erstwhile radio host Beverly Kennedy says she's going to step into the ring to challenge Broward County Mayor Ken Keechl, who has been dogged by his own broken promises to constituents and a campaign spending scandal.

"We need a change from the Stacy Ritters, Ken Keechls, and Ilene Liebermans," Kennedy told me last week, referring to the three beleaguered county commissioners. "I'm going to run on issues and give people a choice."

Rumors have been swirling about potential challengers to Keechl, but Kennedy is the first to make public her intention to file for the seat. She's run unsuccessfully for numerous political offices and is the wife of Ed Kennedy, a former Broward County commissioner and clerk of court.

There are already signs the race could get nasty. Kennedy, a recently converted Democrat, told me she had an unpleasant experience with Keechl's domestic partner, Ted Adcock, at the Democratic Party's Unity Dinner earlier this month at the Marriott Heron Bay.

Kennedy said Adcock, who went on a recent campaign-financed trip to San Francisco with Keechl, approached her at the dinner and asked her if she was running against his partner. She indicated that, yes, she would. "I don't remember the exact words, but it was something to the effect of they would dig into my past and make me regret the decision," she said. "I said, 'Are you threatening me?' "

She's started a website, Beverly4Broward.com, to test the waters and says she's intent on giving voters a viable alternative to Keechl, who has already spent more than $100,000 from his developer- and lobbyist-loaded campaign coffers, including paying rent to himself on a home-office he and Adcock own in Wilton Manors. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has received a criminal complaint in that case alleging that Keechl inflated the rent on the bungalow.

It's great to see some action in that race, if for no other reason than the mayor will finally have a legitimate excuse to spend some of his campaign fortune on something other than himself.

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