May 11 (Bloomberg) -- A former attorney in the law firm of convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein pleaded guilty to helping the firm illegally become the largest contributor to the presidential campaign of Republican John McCain in 2008.
Steven N. Lippman, 49, admitted today in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that he conspired to help Rothstein’s defunct law firm, Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler, illegally “bundle” contributions to McCain’s losing campaign against President Barack Obama.
Lippman is the eighth person accused of helping Rothstein, a disbarred attorney serving 50 years in prison for the $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme run from his law firm in Fort Lauderdale. McCain, a senator from Arizona, gave the money to charity after Rothstein’s crimes came to light.
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. The firm repaid him with money, home renovations, patio furniture, a golf membership and a $134,000 Maserati, he admitted.
Lippman, who will be sentenced Sept. 14, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate campaign finance laws and defraud the U.S. government. He also admitted plotting to draw checks on accounts with insufficient funds and to evade taxes. He faces as long as five years in prison.
His attorney, Bruce Zimet, declined to comment after the hearing. After the charge was filed on April 9, Zimet said Lippman’s acts weren’t related to the Ponzi scheme.
Rothstein pleaded guilty to racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud. He 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.
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.
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. TD Bank will pay $170 million, said Paul Singerman, attorney for the law firm’s bankruptcy receiver.
The case is U.S. v. Lippman, 12-cr-60078, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (Fort Lauderdale).
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