WEST PALM BEACH (CBSMiami) – Convicted Ponzi Scheme operator Scott Rothstein took the stand Wednesday in the trial of his former colleague accused of assisting him in his $1.4 billion fraud.
Prosecutors claim attorney Christina Kitterman assisted in the Rothstein fraud by lying to investors.
Kitterman, who now has her own practice, worked at the now-defunct law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. In a 2012 civil deposition, Rothstein said Kitterman impersonated a Florida Bar official in telephone conversations with investors. She has pleaded not guilty.
Kitterman’s lawyer claims Rothstein was charismatic and manipulative and fooled her just like everybody else.
“He said that he put her up to doing something and that she didn’t know what she was doing,” said defense attorney Valentin Rodriguez. “She didn’t have the intent to commit a crime.”
Rothstein, appearing thinner with more gray hair than the day he was sentenced, was called to the stand as a witness for the defense.
Addressing the jury in a casual tone, Rothstein said he met Kitterman at Nova Southeastern University where he taught part-time as an adjunct law professor, according to The Sun-Sentinel. After she graduated, Rothstein told the jury he hired her to be part of a small eight person law firm he ran.
Rothstein said he started his Ponzi scheme to keep the growing law firm afloat, according to the paper. He said at the time he had an ego, refused to let the firm fail and the Ponzi scheme grew out of control.
Rothstein also testified he had an on again-off again a sexual relationship with Kitterman, a friends with benefits sort of arrangement.
“I loved her and cared about her and I believed she loved me and cared about me. It was not sexual harassment,” Rothstein testified.
In regard to the charges against Kitterman, Rothstein said he did not tell her they were going to cheat anyone, he only asked her to lie.
Chuck Malkus has written a book on the rise and fall of Rothstein’s scheme entitled “The Ultimate Ponzi: The Scott Rothstein Story.
“He’s helping her tremendously although it’s probably not his intention,” said Malkus. “He’s in the limelight.”
Rothstein boasted of buying influence with law enforcement and politicians.
“He admitted that he was responsible for judges sitting on the bench today,” said Malkus.
“I stole from the rich and gave to the richer,” Rothstein told the jury.
Rothstein, who was on the stand for much of the day, is serving a 50-year prison sentence for his scam, which involved investments in phony legal settlements. He has agreed with prosecutors to testify in various legal matters in hopes of getting his sentence reduced.
“I’ve done more good than bad,” Rothstein told the jury. “I don’t deserve to die in prison.”
Rothstein added that he has helped investigators get all of the money back to all the investors involved in the scheme.
On Tuesday his former right-hand woman, Debra Villegas, testified that she helped falsify phony confidential settlements which were the cornerstone of Rothstein’s scam, according to the Sun-Sentinel. She said she did so for a year and a half at Rothstein’s request.
Villegas told the jury that Rothstein spent money like crazy on everything from cars and jewelry to charities and political campaigns. As chief operations officer before it all came to an end, Villegas testified that the firm didn’t make any money, according to the paper. Villegas told the jury only three of the firm’s 70 lawyers brought in more business than they made in salaries and two of those attorneys brought their own clients when they were hired.
Villegas is serving 10 years in prison for a related money-laundering conspiracy.