Some Mutual Benefits Boys Pose In Colombia

For those of you following the Mutual Benefits story, here's a photograph to bring some visuals to the table. It was taken in Bogota, Colombia, in 2001, as Mutual Benefits was trying to round up South American investors in what feds say was a billion dollar Ponzi scheme.

The rather heavyset dark-haired fellow in the center of the photo is Joel Steinger, who is now under federal indictment on fraud and money laundering charges. Steinger, of course, is the fellow who hired Broward Mayor Stacy Ritter's lobbyist husband, Russ Klenet, and paid to renovate the couple's Parkland home. Klenet became extremely close with Steinger and wound up taking Steinger-related money to buy a company, Life Settlements International. That company, court records indicate, was secretly operated by Steinger himself. Steinger was also very close with former state Sen. Steve Geller, who is now running for a Broward commission seat. He also poured half a million dollars into helping state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff win office in 2004 (to put that in perspective, understand that the average amount of money spent on state house races is about $200,000). 

At Steinger's right is lawyer (left on the photo) is Michael McNerney, the once-prominent Fort Lauderdale attorney who served as outside counsel for Mutual Benefits. McNerney, who holds a case in his right hand, literally looks like he's tied to Steinger's hip -- and that's pretty much the way feds describe the relationship. McNerney now faces fraud and money laundering charges alongside Steinger. At the time, Vice Mayor Ken Keechl was a partner of McNerney's. Keechl's role in Mutual Benefits was to defend the Ponzi scheme from victims in court. While Keechl's work for Mutual Benefits was reprehensible, there is no evidence that he violated any laws and he is not under indictment.                                    

-- Second from right in the photo, with the glasses and the graying goatee, is Jaime Eduardo Rey Albornoz. Albornoz was the real reason for the trip to Colombia. He was a broker tied to Colombian cocaine cartels that were looking for American companies in which to launder their profits. Steinger was looking for investors for Mutual Benefits. Albornoz, according to federal court records, diverted tens of millions of dollars of illicit cocaine cash into Mutual Benefits. The feds made the link between the Colombian cartel and Mutual Benefits after the seizure of more 13 tons of cocaine on a fishing vessel in 2001. Steinger and his attorneys have maintained they didn't know the millions they were getting from Albornoz was originating from the drug cartel.

I'm working on identifying the others in the photograph. More to come.  

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman