Just what the Rothstein investigation needed: a big dose of public pressure by people who don't have a clue about the case but have some weird emotional need to see the already disgraced attorney slightly more humbled by being placed in a jail cell. That's what you've got in today's shallow, short-sighted column by the Sun-Sentinel's Michael Mayo.
He points out that other Ponzi schemers like Bernard Madoff and Marc Dreier were arrested almost immediately. Well, for starters, those two weren't already ensconced in a Moroccan hotel room, like Rothstein, who had a strong negotiating position with federal agents. By Mayo's logic, agents should have said, "Scottie, can you come back please? We know there's no extradition policy with Morocco, but we'd really like to handcuff you, then march you through a gantlet of cameras and an angry mob, then throw you in a jail for a few months while we investigate your case.
"Also, we know you were friends with the governor and that the Broward Sheriff's right-hand man walked you to the airport, so can you also tell us about your political friends, please?"
Obviously, Rothstein would have opened a checkbook from a foreign bank, bribed some Moroccan officials and made himself comfortable in North Africa. Or he'd have chartered a jet to his place in Venezuela, where he and Hugo Chavez would have become chums in no time. Instead, it appears that agents made some concessions, perhaps delaying an arrest as part of that package.
But the most obvious reason it's smart to play ball with Rothstein is because he is not the big fish. No matter how much money he conned from investors, he needed political cover to do so. We still don't know how high that went.
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Mayo points out that Rothstein is much too high-profile to be any use as a confidential informant. Well... duh! But he can still offer invaluable testimony, describing exactly what he got back in exchange for the millions he donated to political friends.
Then there are the possible accomplices at his law firm, the bankers who may have cheated to help Rothstein play hide-and-seek with the money. Not to mention that a friendly Rothstein has every reason to help agents find secret bank accounts where investor money can be recovered.
We're going to throw all of that away, just so that we have the satisfaction of seeing Rothstein in handcuffs today rather than next week or next month? For all I care, he can swill martinis for the next year, as long as it means progress against the kind of culture of corruption that allowed Rothstein to thrive.
The danger, of course, is that Mayo's readers -- including local politicians -- take the column as a cue to demand Rothstein's arrest, short-circuiting the federal investigation. Here's hoping that our local politicians are smart and responsible enough to avoid... OK, a more realistic proposition? Let's hope that federal investigators can insulate this case against that pressure, using Rothstein's testimony as a skeleton key for a whole bunch of corruption-filled closets.