Steven Lippman, 54, spent two years in jail for helping famed Fort Lauderdale crook Scott Rothstein commit election, tax, and banking fraud. So now, having served his time, Lippman wants to give the rest of Broward County's legal community advice on how to avoid falling into the same traps he did. On May 26, he'll give a talk, titled "Rothstein: Lessons Learned From Working Inside Florida's Most Notorious Law Firm," at Fort Lauderdale's 110 Tower on May 26. Attendance costs $69.
Rothstein, of course, was Fort Lauderdale's hard-partying, Lamborghini-driving, politician-corrupting lawyer-cum-Ponzi schemer, who was given a 50-year prison sentence in 2009. He'd ripped off investors for $1.2 billion.
Rothstein's story is the stuff of old legend at this point. Until getting caught, Rothstein operated what appeared to be South Florida's fastest-growing law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. Turns out, said law firm was selling people bogus "structured settlements" — in which investors "buy" legal settlements from people willing to trade their regular payments for a lump sum of cash. In Rothstein's case, those settlements never existed, and he was just taking the money, pocketing most of it, and using the rest to pay off his old investors. You know, like a Ponzi
In the meantime, Rothstein dined out at every fancy restaurant in South Florida, zipped around Fort Lauderdale in a bevy of luxury cars, and hobnobbed with John McCain. You know, like a Ponzi
After briefly fleeing to Morocco with a bag full of cash, Rothstein turned himself
Lippman, who helped Rothstein skirt taxes and make illegal political donations (and also hid his own money and cars from the IRS) was initially sentenced to three years in jail back in 2012. (Though he wasn't charged with actually participating in the Ponzi scheme.) At the time, Lippman told U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn that he was "horrified" by what he'd done, according to Bloomberg News. "Without question Mr. Lippman is an accomplished lawyer,” Cohn said. “But, also without question, Mr. Lippman is a very intelligent man. As such, he knew the legal requirements.”
Prosecutors jumped on Lippman for trying to portray himself as both accomplished and "a veritable idiot":
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence LaVecchio questioned how such an accomplished attorney could have been conned so easily.
“In the first half of this hearing we hear that he’s a brilliant attorney,” he said. “In the second half of the hearing, I hear he’s a veritable idiot who is easily manipulated into committing these acts.”
LaVecchio said Lippman “did it because he was making a lot of money at RRA and he wanted to keep the gravy flowing.”
He said Lippman went from earning less than $400,000 in 2004, the year before he started at Rothstein Rosenfeldt, to making almost $1.3 million in 2008.
The Legal Learning Series, which is hosting Lippman's talk, didn't respond to multiple calls from New Times.
Lippman's talk will apparently focus on all the ways to avoid being pressured into writing faulty checks, covering for a massive criminal, and remaining morally upright in the face of millions of dollars in dirty money. According to the Daily Business Review, 30 people had signed up for the talk as of mid-April.
The event's hosts described Lippman's story as "a cautionary tale about getting too close to unethical conduct without asking the appropriate questions and disregarding his self-doubt."
Update: Lippman, however, returned New Times' calls today. He seemed quite apologetic, and stressed that he's trying to share his tale in order to atone for what he'd done in the past.
"I'm trying to be a good and productive person," he says. "And part of that process of moving forward is acknowledging the past and trying to turn it into a positive. Hopefully this can be a cautionary tale, and help some people avoid some problems."
His main point, he says, is that it's easy to rationalize away your faults once you've been caught doing something that seems ethically dubious.
"Besides the obvious, in that I wish I had never taken Scott’s call in the first place, what I address in the seminar is that it's not quite so easy to pick things up in real time," he says. "Lesson that I learned is, if your gut starts telling you it’s wrong, you start rationalizing your way through it, and thenstart rationalizing your own rationalization. Instead, find a trusted advisor, whose opinion you value, someone level-headed who would evaluate things reasonably and run it by them."
His biggest red flag? "The bank accounts. There were several occasions where I tried to distance myself, and think my way through things. To be gentle, I didn’t see that there was anything illegal about it. But I wish I had gone to somebody else, who said, 'Either you’re wrong, or the optics aren’t good. Run for the hills.'"