Rothstein Lawyer Charged With Illegal McCain Campaign Gifts

A former associate of convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein was charged with illegally helping their law firm become the largest contributor to the presidential campaign of Republican John McCain in 2008.

Attorney Steven Lippman, 49, was charged with conspiring to help Rothstein’s defunct law firm, Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler, illegally “bundle” contributions to McCain’s losing campaign against President Barack Obama. He’s also accused of conspiring to draw checks on accounts with insufficient funds and to evade taxes.

Lippman is the eighth person accused of helping Rothstein, a disbarred attorney serving 50 years in prison for the $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme he ran out of his law firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Rothstein pleaded guilty to racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, where Lippman and the others were also charged.

“The breadth, scope, and sheer complexity of Rothstein’s $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme is mind-boggling,” U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said today in a statement. “Its success depended, in no small part, on the complicity of his colleagues and associates, like Steven Lippman.”

Prosecutors charged Lippman, a shareholder at RRA with no equity stake, with helping to “dramatically increase the political influence and power” of the firm by serving as a straw donor who was illegally reimbursed for his contribution.

“The charges speak for themselves,” Lippman’s attorney, Bruce Zimet, said in a phone interview. “All of these acts do not relate to the Ponzi scheme. Though they may have had some effect on it, he was not a participant in the Ponzi scheme.”

Reimbursed With Maserati

McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, donated all Rothstein contributions under his control to charity when the fraud allegations first came to light in November 2009, spokesman Brian Rogers said in an e-mailed statement.

The law firm reimbursed Lippman with money and by paying for home renovations, patio furniture, a golf membership and a $134,000 Maserati, according to a charge filed today. He faces as many as five years in prison.

Rothstein admitted in 2010 that he persuaded wealthy investors to buy stakes in what he said were payouts from settlements of sexual-harassment and workplace discrimination cases. The cases were fabricated, using forged documents and ruses such as having an accomplice pose as a bank officer.

Halloween 2009

The scheme fell apart over Halloween weekend in 2009 when Rothstein couldn’t lure enough new investors to pay earlier ones. After fleeing to Morocco, Rothstein returned to the U.S. He pleaded guilty to racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud.

Rothstein was known for what he called his “rock star” lifestyle. He was married in the Versace mansion in Miami Beach -- Florida’s then-governor Charlie Crist was a guest -- and his car collection included a Rolls-Royce, a Bugatti, two Lamborghinis and a Maserati.

In February, Toronto Dominion Bank agreed to settle a lawsuit with investors who claimed it aided in the Ponzi scheme. Barron’s and the Miami Herald reported that TD Bank would pay $170 million.

The case is U.S. v. Lippman, 12-cr-60078, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (Fort Lauderdale).

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