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Ex-TD Bank Exec Spinosa Charged With Aiding Ponzi Schemer Rothstein

By Jay Weaver, Miami Herald

MIAMI — Federal agents arrested a fired Toronto Dominion Bank executive early Friday on charges of aiding Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein’s $1.2 billion Ponzi scam.

Frank A. Spinosa Jr., a former regional vice president of the bank, was granted a $250,000 bond and released after being indicted on wire-fraud conspiracy and other counts. He allegedly helped Rothstein steal millions of dollars from trust accounts at a TD Bank branch in Fort Lauderdale that belonged to his investors.

Spinosa is accused of lying to some of Rothstein’s investors and producing a series of misleading documents that showed only they had access to their money in the TD Bank accounts.

Although Spinosa became a huge liability for TD Bank as it faced lawsuits brought by Rothstein’s investors, his defense attorney asserted he did nothing wrong.

“The indictment comes as a relief to Mr. Spinosa,” Miami attorney Sam Rabin said after his bond hearing Friday in federal court. “He will finally have his day in court and be able to explain why he is innocent to a jury.”

Spinosa is among the last of about 30 co-defendants who have been charged in connection with Rothstein’s investment racket, which unraveled five years ago as the lawyer fled to Morocco before returning to South Florida to confess to his massive financial crime. What makes his criminal case unusual is that the vast majority of Rothstein’s co-defendants cut plea deals to avoid long prison sentences.

Rothstein, convicted of racketeering, fraud and other charges, is serving a 50-year prison sentence.

In late 2011, Rothstein testified during a civil bankruptcy proceeding involving his former law firm that he paid off Spinosa. The disbarred attorney said that without help from Spinosa, his swindle would have crashed.

Rothstein claimed he once slid Spinosa an envelope filled with at least $50,000 during one of their regular lunch meetings at Rothstein’s downtown Fort Lauderdale restaurant, Bova Prime. Spinosa helped pull off the fraud for the money and the chance to take part in the “rock star lifestyle” offered by the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm, Rothstein alleged.

Spinosa’s attorney, Rabin, said at the time that Rothstein was lying, falsely accusing anyone he could of crimes in order to get his sentence reduced.

“Same con man, different motivation,” Rabin said. “The facts are Spinosa did not take part in the ‘rock star lifestyle.’ He did not receive money, the amount of which changed in each (of Rothstein’s) statements, and internal bank records reflect he did not look the other way.”

In September of last year, TD Bank agreed to pay $52.5 million in penalties to the federal government after regulators said it allowed Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme to flourish.

The fines came on top of the more than $400 million the bank has paid in restitution and damages to hundreds of Rothstein’s investment victims, who bought fabricated legal settlements in exchange for promised high returns.

TD Bank reached a $37.5 million settlement with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and a separate $15 million deal with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Federal regulators accused TD Bank of failing to file suspicious activity reports despite the massive amounts of money flying through the bank accounts of Rothstein’s law firm. The bank filed five late so-called SARs in 2011 involving an estimated $900 million in suspect transactions.

The SEC alleged TD Bank and then-regional vice president, Spinosa, also misled Rothstein’s investors about the safety of their accounts.

Spinosa had assured some investors that accounts held millions of dollars in them when those accounts held less than $100, federal regulators alleged.

Last September, the SEC filed a civil lawsuit against Spinosa, who denied the allegations.

Photo: Matthew G. Bisanz, via Flickr

Al-Qaida Recruit Jose Padilla Resentenced To 21 Years In Prison

By Jay Weaver, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — Convicted al-Qaida terrorist recruit Jose Padilla was resentenced to 21 years in prison in Miami federal court Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke issued Padilla’s new sentence in response to a federal appeals court ruling ordering her to give the 43-year-old U.S. citizen a longer prison term. Cooke had initially given Padilla a nearly 17 1/2 year prison sentence after his 2007 trial on charges of conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

In effect, the judge crafted a sentence that added the detention time –3 1/2 years — that Padilla had already served in a South Carolina Naval brig after his arrest in 2002. Cooke had cut that time from his original prison sentence.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Padilla’s defense attorney argued that the former “enemy combatant” in the post-9/11 era has been subject to isolation, torture, and interrogation during his 12 years of military detention and federal imprisonment in the United States.

“He has sunk into a pit of hopelessness and despair,” Federal Public Defender Michael Caruso told the judge, as he asked for a 21-year sentence for Padilla. He faced the possibility of a 30-year prison term, which was sought by federal prosecutors Brian Frazier and Ricardo del Toro.

Under a deal between both sides, the U.S. attorney’s office agreed not to seek a life sentence for Padilla’s 2007 conviction of providing material support to terrorists overseas, which is allowed under federal sentencing guidelines. In exchange, Padilla’s attorney didn’t disclose any evidence obtained from a subpoena for government records of his detention in the South Carolina brig before his transfer to face trial in Miami.

Padilla, who has been held at the Miami Federal Detention since the fall of 2012, was previously incarcerated at the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, where he was held in isolation almost all day.

In 2011, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that Padilla should have received harsher punishment reflecting his extensive criminal record. The appellate court found that Judge Cooke “unreasonably discounted” Padilla’s criminal history before lowering a potential 30-year-to-life sentence.

Padilla, born in New York to Puerto Rican parents, was a former Chicago gang member with 17 arrests and a murder conviction before moving to the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area and becoming a recruit for al-Qaida, according to federal prosecutors.

The appeals court sent the controversial case back to Cooke to resentence Padilla, who trained with al-Qaida the year before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to trial evidence.

Caruso appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it declined to hear his petition.

The appeals court, in a 2-1 ruling, upheld the terrorism convictions of Padilla and two others: Adham Amin Hassoun, a Palestinian who had met him at a Broward County mosque in the 1990s; and Hassoun’s colleague, Kifah Wael Jayyousi, a U.S. citizen of Jordanian descent. They were sentenced to 15 years and eight months, and 12 years and eight months, respectively.

In his appeal, Padilla challenged Cooke’s decision to reject a motion to dismiss his indictment based on “outrageous government conduct” while he was held in a Navy brig before his transfer to Miami in 2006.

Padilla was held without being charged in the South Carolina brig for 3 1/2 years — time that the Miami judge cut from his sentence.

The appellate court, in an opinion written by Chief Judge Joel F. Dubina and joined by Judge William H. Pryor, sided with the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami. Prosecutors, who were seeking life imprisonment for Padilla, appealed Cooke’s sentence of about 17 1/2 years. They argued the judge’s prison term was about 13 years below the low end of the sentencing guidelines: 30 years.

The appellate court wrote that Cooke’s punishment “reflects a clear error of judgment about the sentencing of this career offender.” The court noted that his co-defendant, Hassoun, had no prior criminal history but received a sentence that was “only” 20 months less than Padilla’s.

“(Cooke) attached little weight to Padilla’s extensive criminal history, gave no weight to his future dangerousness, compared him to criminals who were not similarly situated, and gave unreasonable weight to the condition of his pre-trial detention (in the Naval brig),” Dubina wrote.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Clinic Operator Suspected Of Selling Steroids To Plead Guilty In October

By Jay Weaver, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — Anthony Bosch, the South Florida clinic operator suspected of selling banned steroids to suspended Major League Baseball players, plans to plead guilty in October to illegally distributing the performance enhancement drugs.

“We’ve resolved the case,” Bosch’s defense attorney, Guy Lewis, told U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles on Wednesday in Miami federal court. “It’s going to be resolved with a (guilty) plea.”

Bosch, who initially pleaded not guilty after he surrendered last month, has signed a plea agreement admitting to his criminal activity at a Coral Gables, Florida, anti-aging clinic that allegedly sold testosterone to New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez and other players. He was scheduled for trial on Monday, but the agreement precludes it.

Bosch said nothing during Wednesday’s pre-trial hearing. Afterward, Lewis declined to comment on why his client — a notorious figure in baseball — decided to change his plea to guilty.

Bosch, accused of selling more than 5,000 units of testosterone to both professional and high school ballplayers, faces up to 10 years in prison, according to the plea agreement. He has agreed to assist the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. attorney’s office in the investigation, which could help him obtain a significantly lesser sentence.

Last month, Bosch and six other defendants were arrested on charges of conspiring to sell the illegal steroids — one year after more than a dozen Major League Baseball players were suspended in connection with the clinic probe, including Rodriguez. The arrests marked the climax of the biggest doping scandal in baseball history.

The six defendants, including Rodriguez’s cousin, are accused of conspiring with Bosch to distribute the steroids supplied by his clinic between 2008 and 2013. Bosch, who led some people to believe he was a licensed medical doctor, is the former owner of the Biogenesis of America clinic in Coral Gables.

In recently filed court papers, the U.S. attorney’s office revealed that 122 electronic surveillance recordings — audio and video — were made of Bosch and the other defendants during the federal investigation. It gained momentum early last year after the Miami New Times broke the story about Bosch’s alleged sale of steroids to Major League ballplayers and others.

None of Bosch’s customers have been charged in the federal case.

The federal investigation is shrouded in secrecy. Prosecutors Pat Sullivan and Sharad Motiani and defense attorneys Lewis and Susy Elena Ribero-Ayala have agreed that no evidence — including the names of customers — can be shared with outside parties, including Major League Baseball. The clinic’s customers also included Miami-Dade high school ballplayers.

Gayles, the federal judge, has granted a protective order restricting the sharing of the evidence.

Photo: Walter Michot/Miami Herald/MCT

Stolen Matisse Masterpiece Goes On Wild Ride, Now Back In Venezuela

By Jay Weaver, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — A stolen Matisse masterpiece taken on a long and wild international ride that ended with a thwarted black market sale in Miami Beach has finally made it back home to Venezuela.

FBI agents in Miami led the investigation to recover the $3.7 million painting, called “Odalisque in Red Pants,” which was unveiled earlier this month amid much fanfare at the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art.

“It was a high-security operation,” said Barry Golden, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, which took custody of the nude in Miami last year and handed it off to Venezuelan authorities in July.

The delivery closed the book on an art world heist with all the twists of a Hollywood whodunnit — but has not entirely resolved the mystery of who stole the 1925 masterwork in the first place.

The Venezuelan museum, which had bought the Henri Matisse painting for about $500,000 from a New York gallery in 1981, reported that it had been stolen in December 2002 — apparently swapped for a forgery after it was lent to an exhibit in Spain.

But a Miami FBI agent who has led the investigation to recover the work confirmed Wednesday that it was actually stolen sometime before September 2000, and spotted in Paris a year later.

A decade after that, the painting ended up in Mexico City. Then, during an undercover operation in July 2012, the FBI recovered the painting from a Miami man and Mexican woman who tried to fence it for $740,000 in a Miami Beach hotel room.

“We learned through debriefings that she and her associates got the painting from an individual who died and they took it from his possessions,” FBI special agent Robert Giczy told the Miami Herald.

The thieves who tried to sell the painting were Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, 48, of Miami, and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, 53, of Mexico City. Last year, they were sentenced to nearly three years and two years, respectively, after pleading guilty to conspiring to transport and sell stolen property.

To this day, the FBI and other law enforcement authorities cannot be certain how the Matisse was stolen from the Caracas museum.

Marcuello told the FBI it was an inside job, supporting museum director Rita Salvestrini’s suspicion that the painting was taken by someone with access to the museum.

“The theft involved replacing the original painting with a forged replica on the museum’s walls to deceive museum staff and visitors,” according to an FBI affidavit filed with the criminal complaint against Marcuello and Ornelas.

Investigators from Venezuela, Spain, France, Britain, Interpol, and the FBI pursued an array of leads, according to published reports.
A Caracas newspaper suggested the swap happened during the exhibit loan in Spain.

The Associated Press said French police investigated a lead that the painting was taken to Matisse’s home country.

This much is certain: In October 2011, the FBI’s art crime team learned from an informant that the Matisse was in Mexico and available on the black market.

The piece found its way to Ornelas’ home in Mexico City after she, her husband, and others took it from a Mexican man who died, according to the FBI’s Giczy. Marcuello knew Ornelas through her husband, who was one of his “main associates,” according to the FBI. The husband was not charged.

FBI undercover agents tracked down the painting and made arrangements to buy it from Marcuello and Ornelas.

Marcuello met a half-dozen times to discuss the sale with an undercover agent at the Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in Miami Beach and at a Starbucks coffee shop in Coral Gables.

The agent told Marcuello that he had a “friend,” an art dealer, who had been involved in the sales of two other stolen paintings and that he wanted to buy the “Odalisque in Red Pants.”

Marcuello negotiated a discounted sales price because the painting was stolen, and arranged for emails of the artwork to be sent to the dealer, who was actually an undercover agent.

Meanwhile, Ornelas, the wife of Marcuello’s associate in Mexico, agreed to bring the painting to Miami.

On July 16, 2012, Ornelas flew from Mexico City to Miami. She carried the multimillion-dollar artwork in a red tube through customs at Miami International Airport.

The next day, Marcuello and Ornellas agreed to meet with the two undercover agents in a room at the Loews Hotel to finalize the purchase.

Marcuello asked for 20 percent of the painting’s estimated $3.7 million value. The undercover agents agreed to give them $550,000 and wire the balance to Mexico.

“At the meeting, we got to inspect and authenticate the painting,” said the FBI’s Giczy, who led the probe. “No cash was exchanged.”

Agents arrested Marcuello and Ornelas in the room.

But that would not be the end of the story for the “Odalisque in Red Pants.”

Over the next year, the FBI consulted with art experts, including a former curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, to verify the ownership history of the painting before turning it over to the Venezuelans.

Said Giczy: “That freed the painting so it could be repatriated.”

This summer, the renowned French painter’s well-traveled canvas was flown from Texas and returned to the Caracas museum.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Law Partner Of Ponzi Schemer Gets 2 1/2 Years In Prison

By Jay Weaver, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — When Fort Lauderdale attorney Russell Adler joined Scott Rothstein’s fledgling law firm a decade ago, he insisted on being listed as a named partner because of his solid reputation.

As he stood in federal court before his sentencing Friday, Adler expressed regret over persuading the future Ponzi schemer to put him on the nameplate of Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler.

“Being the ‘A’ in ‘RRA’ has been an ironic curse that haunts me and humiliates me to this day,” Adler, 52, told U.S. District Judge James Cohn, after revealing he was recently fired from his volunteer job at Delray Community Hospital. “I leave my profession in shame and disgrace.”

Cohn sentenced an apologetic Adler to 2.5 years in prison for illegally bundling hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to a former Florida governor and a Republican nominee for president. Adler, now disbarred, must surrender to prison authorities on Sept. 29.

Adler, who pleaded guilty in April to breaking federal election laws in exchange for salary bonuses from Rothstein, had hoped for far less punishment after he apologized. In court papers, Adler had asked the Fort Lauderdale federal judge to give him a probationary sentence or home confinement.

But that kind of lenient punishment was not in the cards for Adler, despite his peripheral role in Rothstein’s massive investment scam that unraveled more than four years ago.

The judge, who sent Rothstein to prison for 50 years, said he needed to send a message of “deterrence” that there is a “price to be paid” when an attorney such as Adler crosses the line. Cohn weighed whether to give Adler a prison term ranging from two years to 2.5 years, and opted for the higher sentence.

The judge noted that Adler may not have been involved in Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme, but he helped illegally boost their law firm’s image with fraudulent campaign contributions to high-profile politicians, including former Gov. Charlie Crist and GOP presidential nominee John McCain.

“In 2008 and 2009, Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler was awash in cash,” Cohn declared, referring to the once high-flying law firm. “Mr. Adler was at the epicenter, he was at ground zero. Was he blind and deaf as to what was going on?”

Cohn also said he could not overlook that Adler still owed the U.S. government $372,000 in back taxes after earning almost $2 million since the collapse of the RRA law firm in fall 2009, saying it would be “inappropriate” to give him no prison time.

Some of Adler’s peers, including Broward County Senior Circuit Judge Richard Eade, appeared to show their support in Fort Lauderdale federal court, calling Adler a highly skilled and ethical lawyer in the courtroom.

Adler is among the most prominent of more than 20 lawyers, associates, and other people convicted so far in connection with Rothstein’s $1.2 billion investment swindle. The defunct Rothstein firm’s other named partner, Stuart Rosenfeldt, who pleaded guilty to a similar conspiracy charge earlier this month, is the latest defendant to fall in the long-running probe.

Rothstein’s investment racket collapsed in October 2009. Rothstein, who headed the 70-attorney law firm, pleaded guilty in early 2010 and is hoping that his assistance in fingering his former partners and the other defendants will slice a chunk of time off his 50-year prison sentence.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Miami Jury Convicts Reputed Spaniard Drug Kingpin Of Money Laundering

By Jay Weaver, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — A federal jury Wednesday convicted reputed Spanish drug kingpin Alvaro Lopez Tardon on money laundering charges, finding him guilty of cleaning more than $20 million from cocaine profits in Spain through Miami’s luxury condo and car markets.

Lopez Tardon, who appeared stoic as the verdicts were read in Miami federal court, was found guilty on a single conspiracy charge that carries up to 20 years in prison and guilty on 13 money laundering charges that carry up to 10 years each.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard scheduled his sentencing for August 19.

The drama leading up to Wednesday’s conviction was heightened late Tuesday, when the 12 jurors said in a note that they reached “unanimous” verdicts on some counts but were “divided” on others. The judge ordered them to continue deliberations, which began Friday.

Before his arrest in 2011, Lopez Tardon, 39, went on a wild spending spree. He snapped up 13 high-priced condos, including a $1 million-plus penthouse at the Continuum in South Beach, and 17 luxury cars, including a 2008 black Bugatti Veyron for $1.2 million and a 2003 black Ferrari Enzo for almost $1 million. That’s excluding Florida sales taxes.

For the past six weeks, Lopez Tardon, accused boss of a Spanish cocaine ring dubbed “Los Miami,” was a lone defendant standing trial. His brother, Artemio Lopez Tardon, charged along with him, could not make the Miami trial because he is being held with dozens of other Spanish defendants on drug-trafficking charges in Spain.

“If you want to follow the little drug dealer, you follow the drugs,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Gonzalez told jurors during closing arguments last week. “If you want to follow the big drug dealer, you follow the money.”

“He’s a really, really big drug dealer who made the mistake of moving his money into the United States,” Gonzalez said, calling Lopez Tardon’s buying frenzy “mind-boggling” and pointing out that he spent about $1 million on fancy Audemars Piguet watches alone.

To hide his role in the real estate transactions, Lopez Tardon’s cash deals were carried out under the name of a shell company or straw buyer, including 11 purchases at The Mark on Brickell Bay Drive and One Miami on South Biscayne Boulevard, argued Gonzalez, who worked on the prosecution with Cristina Maxwell.

But Lopez Tardon’s defense attorney, Howard Srebnick, countered that the millions his client spent in Miami came from a family-owned exotic car dealership and an epicurean shop in Madrid — not from drug trafficking.

“The government is saying, ‘Look at all the cash, look at all the watches. He must be a drug dealer,'” Srebnick told jurors. “Well, let’s do the math.”

He called the family’s dealership and shop “legitimate businesses” that generated more than $20 million in revenue, citing Spanish government tax records.

Srebnick also told jurors that his client disclosed dozens of wire transfers from Spain to Miami, arguing that he was not trying to hide anything illicit from the U.S. government. “It was not a scheme to conceal,” said Srebnick, who worked on the defense with attorney Richard Klugh.

Photo: Fammy via Flickr