Now that Scott Rothstein has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for his billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, the question is whether he'll actually serve all of it. The answer is likely no, but his best-case scenario still may not save him from dying in prison.
Legal experts say Rothstein has little chance to see his sentence reduced by much. If he behaves himself in prison, he'll have to serve only 85 percent of his time, which knocks it down to 42 1/2 years.
From there, he'll need help from prosecutors, who can ask U.S. District Judge James Cohn
to reduce his sentence in exchange for Rothstein's cooperation. Federal prosecutors typically will ask the judge to reduce sentences by about a third for those who provide cooperation that leads to convictions, says Ricardo Bascuas, a University of Miami School of Law professor.
Under that scenario, Rothstein's sentence would be 33 years. With another 15 percent credit for good behavior, that reduces it to just over 28 years. Rothstein turns 48 tomorrow, so it's possible he could get out at 76 years old. But living to 76 is a lot easier on Las Olas than it is in federal prison.
Rothstein has been cooperating since he returned from Morocco in November, even helping with a sting operation against reputed members of the Mafia. More indictments are expected in the case soon. Rothstein, if he wants a reduced sentence, will have to be a willing witness in those cases, says Mark Dobson, a professor at Nova Southeastern University's law school who actually taught Rothstein in the 1980s.
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"The prosecutors will have a choice whether to request this reduced sentence," Dobson said. Prosecutors would have to file what's called a rule 35b motion that would argue Rothstein's continued cooperation equals a reduction in his sentence. To get a sizable reduction, Rothstein will have to hope that his cooperation actually leads to a conviction.
Reducing Rothstein's sentence may appear to be a tough sell for Cohn, who criticized Rothstein in court today for forging a federal judge's signature on court papers. But Bascuas says most judges go along with reduced sentences. "I would think that a judge would be able to keep these two things separate when considering the reduced sentence," Bascuas said.
For now, Rothstein will be whisked away to an undisclosed prison. Because of his work on the Mafia case, he'll remain in the witness protection program. Skeptics have speculated that Rothstein may simply walk out of prison under another name, with help from the government. But Dobson said that won't happen. "The government cannot just turn around and release him despite what the court said. That is not going to happen."
Dobson also disputes claims that Rothstein will spend his days in some cushy prison. "There's no such thing," Dobson said, "as a federal prison where you'd want to spend the rest of your life. It doesn't exist."