UPDATED: New details have emerged about the Scott Rothstein Mafia case.
First, when Rothstein cooperated with the feds against alleged Sicilian Mafiosi Roberto Settineri, he began by contacting Settineri directly, a source close to the case told me. When Rothstein offered to meet with Settineri in a public place, the reputed mobster sent his associates, Enrique Ros and Daniel Dromerhauser, in his stead.
Settineri knew Ros and Dromerhauser from their work with Fort Lauderdale-based 5 Star Executive Protection. In fact, it was Settineri who recommended 5-Star to work the detail at Casa Casuarina, AKA the Versace mansion, after Rothstein bought a stake in the Miami Beach property, said the source.
Rothstein met with Ros and Dromerhauser on seven occasions in locations throughout Broward County, including a Starbucks on Commercial Boulevard, a Dunkin' Donuts, and a Barnes & Noble bookstore on Stirling Road.
And Rothstein threw money at them for the meetings. According to the source, the deal was that he pay them $25,000 to shred a box of fake documents he claimed could be used as evidence against him for the Ponzi scheme. He gave them another $4,000 to purchase a shredder. In all he gave $69,000 in cash and $10,000 in a wire to the security firm's bank account.
The kicker: Settineri, Ros, and Dromerhauser never actually destroyed the documents -- they were returned to the government when the indictments came down, the source told me.
Speaking of the Ponzi case, it's been five months since Scott Rothstein returned from Morocco to face the music for his $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.
And so far, he's the only one who has been arrested (though his right-hand woman, Debra Villegas, is said to have already struck a deal that involves a felony charge against her).
Why so slow? Well, I caught up with Rothstein prosecutor Jeffrey Kaplan outside the federal courthouse after a day at the Fitzroy Salesman trial and asked him the million-dollar question. Here the video:
The guy who is actually in charge of the Rothstein investigation is of course Kaplan's boss, Jeffrey Sloman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. And Kaplan isn't alone in working the trenches on the Rothstein case; prosecutors Larry LeVecchio and Paul Schwartz are also on the case. But the truth is that the Fitzroy Salesman trial has, indeed, slowed progress on the Rothstein case for both prosecutors and the FBI.
While Salesman, who is charged with bribery, extortion, and honest services fraud, doesn't get the attention of Rothstein, his trial is just as important for the feds as anything right now. The FBI spent four years investigating corruption in Broward County and
several arrests so far, including Salesman, Broward County Commissioner Joe Eggelletion, and School Board Member Beverly Gallagher. Eggelletion and Gallagher pleaded guilty and both are headed to prison. Salesman is taking the fight to the feds, and a loss would be a severe blow to their continuing efforts to bring corrupt politicians here to justice.
Or at least that's the way it's perceived. The feds don't take losses easily, especially when it comes to public officials, a fact that might explain why the cases have been such a rarity in Broward County during the past several decades.
So the Salesman trial is paramount in looking at Broward County's future. A loss will chill the feds, whether they admit it or not, and a victory will embolden corruption fighters. And watching Kaplan duke it out in court with his trial nemesis Jamie Benjamin in the courtroom has been interesting and at times even exhilarating.
Just to be clear, Kaplan and Benjamin do not like each other, and not just because they are adversaries in the courtroom. They snap at each other regularly, but the real showdown came Tuesday when U.S. District Judge James Cohn at one point sustained Benjamin's objection to bar Miramar City Manager Robert Payton from testifying about his earlier warnings to Salesman that he couldn't take money for his actions as a city commissioner when he "consulted" for private individuals and businesses in his office.
The point was central to the prosecution, and when Cohn at one point uttered the word "sustained" to the objection, Kaplan quite literally pleaded for him to change his mind. The prosecutor wouldn't take no for an answer, and it was the most contentious moment in the entire two-week trial so far.
As Kaplan pleaded his case before Cohn (the jury was out of the room), Benjamin kept interrupting him (Benjamin has a thing about interrupting people, including witnesses at times). After one of the interruptions, Kaplan pounded the table and complained about Benjamin's behavior, saying he wasn't done with his argument.
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"I dont' know if ever you are going to be done," Benjamin said. "But I thought you were done."
"Well, obviously you're still talking," Kaplan snapped back. "I'll tell you when I'm done."
Kaplan convinced Cohn, who said he was "shocked" himself by Payton's testimony about the manager's suspicions of possible prior crimes, to allow Payton to give proffered testimony, outside the jury's earshot, to show him exactly what would be said. After hearing Payton's testimony, Cohn reversed himself and allowed the testimony.
Kaplan won that battle -- and everyone who cares about clean government in Broward County should hope he wins a guilty verdict as well.