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Personal Finance from Forbes.com

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  • What You Should Really Be Afraid Of This Halloween
    With Halloween upon us, you're probably surrounded by your share of ghosts and goblins. But if you're like many Americans, what's really keeping you up at night is something far scarier: market volatility. With all the talk among "investment experts" about a possible crash or a meltdown, it's perfectly understandable.
  • On Fifth Anniversary Of Rothstein's $1.2 Billion Ponzi Scheme, Questions Remain
    It was ego fueled. We were rolling, you know, we were -- we were all, me, Stu, Lippman, Adler, Boden, we were living like rock stars; private jets, massive amounts of money. There were lots of things that kept fueling that. As I'm sure you realize from looking at everything, there came a point in time when the only portion about it, which was money, was keeping the Ponzi going. We had more than enough money to fuel our lifestyles. It was the power that got ahold of us and kept pulling this forward; the more power, the more money, the more money the more power, it kept going back and forth until in exploded. - Scott Rothstein 2011 deposition testimony
    Five years ago on a late October night, prominent lawyer Scott Rothstein hurried down an empty tarmac towards a waiting Gulfstream plane bound for Morocco - a country that lacked an extradition agreement with the United States.  Rothstein’s once-extravagant lifestyle was collapsing before his eyes, with hundreds of investors soon to learn that Rothstein had masterminded a massive $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.  Carrying a duffel bag stuffed with over $500,000 and with $16 million sitting in a Moroccan bank account, Rothstein had little intention of returning to the U.S. to face the music. But Rothstein’s conscience somehow got the best of him and, with the cajoling of friends and family, he returned several weeks later and immediately began cooperating with federal authorities.  With the exception of testifying at depositions and appearing in court, his whereabouts are unknown and authorities have confirmed he is a participant in the federal witness protection program.  With credit for good behavior, Rothstein is scheduled to be released sometime in late 2052. Like the larger-than-life persona embraced by Rothstein during the pendency of the scheme, the five years following Rothstein's arrest have also yielded eye-popping figures.  While Rothstein's victims initially had little hope to recoup any of their losses, the work of a court-appointed trustee (and arguably Rothstein's assistance) have yielded the unprecedented result that victims will recoup 100% of their losses.  Amazingly, some victims even managed to turn a profit on their role in Rothstein's fraud through savvy lawyering.  Rothstein's cooperation with federal authorities has also been extensive; more than two dozen of Rothstein's former acquaintances, co-workers, and family members (including his wife) previously served or are currently serving time in federal prison for their role in Scott's crimes. Unsurprisingly, Rothstein's seemingly-limitless cooperation has not been entirely out of remorse; rather, he has been quite clear of his hope that those efforts might one day result in a reduction of his 50-year prison sentence that, if left unchanged, is likely a death sentence.  That Rothstein might one day walk out of a federal prison on his own free will, rather than horizontally surrounded by empaneled wood, could become a reality if U.S. District Judge James Cohn rewards the convicted Ponzi schemer's campaign of cooperation.  Questions remain not only as to whether Rothstein's cooperation might lead to further arrests, but if Rothstein might be able to pull one final con: successfully reducing his 50-year sentence. Florida’s Largest Ponzi Scheme Beginning as early as 2005, Rothstein touted lucrative returns to investors through the purchases of highly confidential legal settlements purportedly stemming from claims of sexual harassment, whistle-blower, and qui tam actions against large corporations.   According to Rothstein, while the alleged settling defendant had already deposited the settlement funds with Rothstein's firm, an investor could "purchase" the right to payment of that settlement at a discount.  With the investor sworn to secrecy and enamored by the prospect of an lucrative return, there was a built-in incentive for all parties to remain tight-lipped. Describing himself at times as a "Prince of Darkness," Rothstein took great lengths to keep the scheme afloat, including forging documents with the signatures of state and federal court judges, convincing others to impersonate judges and Florida bar officials, and utilizing corrupt law enforcement officers at his disposal.
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