FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A former Broward Sheriff's Office lieutenant has been sentenced to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy for his role in convicted Ponzi scheme operator Scott Rothstein's $1.2 billion fraud.
U.S. District Judge James Cohn imposed the sentence Monday on David Benjamin, 48, of Boca Raton.
Benjamin pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge for accepting more than $185,000 in dirty money from Rothstein in exchange for using his position and badge to do favors for the fraudster. One of those favors involved escorting Rothstein to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, when he fled the country to Morocco after the Ponzi scheme exploded. Another involved the false arrest of Marcy Romeo Flaster on trumped-up prescription drug charges.
Flaster is the ex-wife of Doug Bates, a Rothstein co-conspirator who is now serving a five-year prison sentence of his own. Flaster and Bates were involved in a bitter custody dispute, and Rothstein had Benjamin arrest her as a favor to Bates.
Benjamin ordered former BSO Detective Jeff Poole, who has also pleaded guilty in the case, to carry out the arrest. Poole, a narcotics detective in an unmarked car, pulled Flaster over in Sunrise on the morning of June 29, 2009, and arrested her for allegedly carrying her developmentally disabled son's medication without a label. Flaster said Bates had given her the medication that morning.
"They utilized my autistic son's medication to pull this off," Flaster told the judge.
"What happened to me in those 17 hours basically ruined my life and, more importantly, it ruined my family's life," she told Cohn at the sentencing.
Poole had testified at a hearing that Benjamin ordered him to make the arrest and called Flaster a "bitch" when he did it. While addressing the judge, Flaster turned to Benjamin and addressed him directly.
"I've never met you, and I'm the 'bitch' that you told to arrest," she said. "Well, my name is Marcy and I am a mother and I'm a daughter. And I'm a human being."
Benjamin apologized to Flaster but said he never called her any name. He also allegedly threatened a prostitute and her boyfriend on behalf of Rothstein law partner Stuart Rosenfeldt when the boyfriend threatened to reveal that Rosenfeldt was engaging her services.
Benjamin had nothing to say to Local 10's Bob Norman as he entered the federal courthouse. Inside, though, he apologized for his actions.
"All I can do is apologize," Benjamin, who had 27 years of law enforcement experience, said in court.
His attorney, Mike Dutko, told Cohn that Benjamin was "starstruck" not so much by Rothstein, whom Benjamin found "loud and bombastic," but by the trappings of politics. Benjamin worked closely on former Sheriff Al Lamberti's 2008 campaign, to which Rothstein contributed tens of thousands of dollars, and while chumming with Rothstein met Gov. Charlie Crist and U.S. Sen. John McCain, among others. Benjamin believed he had an "innate political knack for remembering names and people" and wanted to continue living "behind the ropes" in that world.
Dutko also noted that Benjamin, who is divorced and has a child, spent 30 hours in interviews cooperating with federal agents but acknowledged that his cooperation "has not resulted in the prosecution of any other people and, frankly, I don't know that it will."
Prosecutor Jeffrey Kaplan confirmed that Benjamin's testimony had not produced a single other case.
Benjamin's attorney asked that he be allowed to go home and voluntarily surrender himself to prison at a later date, but Cohn said he felt it was important that Flaster see the man who had her falsely arrested be put in handcuffs to begin his incarceration immediately. Flaster did just that as Benjamin was led away to the back of the courtroom on his way to prison.
"I think he deserved what he got," Flaster said after the sentencing.
Cohn also ordered Benjamin to pay $22,000 restitution to Flaster.
Poole is being sentenced Thursday after he pleaded guilty to civil rights conspiracy.
Rothstein is serving 50 years in prison.
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