UPDATE= Check out the mob mentality in the comments section as the vox populi screams for more blood, more flesh, and more time for Rothstein. It's just this type of mob mentality that an independent judiciary is supposed to protect us from.
As we all know by now, Federal Judge James Cohn sentenced former attorney-ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein to 50 years in prison. Rothstein turns 48 on June 10, 2010.
This sentence is way too severe. It was ten years more than the government asked for, and twenty years more than the defense asked for, and 30 years more than former attorney-ponzi schemer Marc Dreier received for his crimes in NYC. For more on what Dreier did- which in many ways exceeded Rothstein's crimes, click here.
Cohn seemed to justify the 50 year sentence by telling Rothstein's attorney that unlike the Dreier case, Rothstein forged and fabricated judicial orders. While it is true that Rothstein did that and much more, the forged orders do not justify an additional 30 years. Rothstein forged the orders way into the end of his Ponzi scheme, and the orders, which were extremely poorly written, did little to help Rothstein in the main part of his Ponzi scheme.
We don't diminish Rothstein's crimes. Rothstein was brought down by his hubris pure and simple. And along the way he stole, and delighted in flaunting his apparent financial success in the face of the legal community when all along it wasn't success but simple fraud that allowed Rothstein to live his extravagant lifestyle.
The best way to look at a sentence is to work backwards. Starting today, what would have been an appropriate amount of punishment for these crimes in the past? If Rothstein was convicted in 1990 and was released from prison today, would that have been sufficient? Or how about if he was sentenced in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was president and when personal computers and cell phones were gleams in engineers eyes- would that have been sufficient punishment? That would have been 30 years.
Or how about if he was sentenced in 1970 when Nixon was president and color TVs were an extravagance that not many could afford. Would 40 years in a federal penitentiary have been sufficient? Not to Judge Cohn. No, Judge Cohn felt that incarcerating Rothstein from 1960 until today would be appropriate punishment. That is just ridiculous.
Prison wrecks most people. Mr. Rothstein will lose his wife. His parents will die while he is in prison and he will not be able to attend their funerals. His daughter will grow up and have a life and family of her own and he will not be a part of it. And all that punishment could have been accomplished by sentencing Rothstein to 25 years. Where will you be in 2035? Mr. Rothstein will be in a federal penitentiary, half way through his sentence.
Rothstein had over 15 million dollars in cash and assets with him when he fled to Morocco, which doesn't have an extradition treaty. And yet Rothstein chose to return. What message does this sentence send? It sends a message that our justice system imposes vengeance, not justice. Rothstein cooperated with the government to the extent that the prosecutor called his cooperation extraordinary. And Judge Cohn sentenced Rothstein to a sentence guaranteeing that Rothstein will die in prison. What would Cohn have given Rothstein without cooperation? 70 years? 80 years? Like that makes a big difference.
Judge Cohn's sentence was excessive by almost any yardstick that free and enlightened societies use to measure justice and punishment. The sentence bespoke of pandering to the mob, which enraged by Rothstein's extravagant lifestyle, has been demanding "the max." Cohn sentenced Rothstein as if he felt personally offended by Rothstein forging the signature of his colleagues. This 50 year sentence has all the earmarks of vengeance, and little semblance to justice.
A sentence should be a just imposition of punishment. A sentence should not be a sham to be adjusted downward at a later time. It is improper for Judge Cohn to sentence Rothstein to 50 years with an eye towards adjusting it downward to 30 years at a later time. If Rothstein deserves 30 years, he should have received 30 years, and then later received the benefit of his cooperation. That is how the system is designed to work.
It takes a lot to make us or anyone sympathetic to a criminal scam artist's plight.
50 years is a lot of time.
See You In Court.