When Scott Rothstein takes his first turn on the witness stand — probably this week, in the criminal trial of his former employee Christina Kitterman — her defense hopes she will look like a very small pawn easily manipulated by the $1.4 billion conman.
"Isn't it ironic that the first trial where we get Mr. Rothstein to appear is the least significant one?" defense attorney Valentin Rodriguez Jr. said.
Kitterman's trial on three wire fraud charges is set to start Monday in federal court in West Palm Beach. The witness list reads like a staff phone directory for the defunct Fort Lauderdale law firm of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler or RRA.
Kitterman's defense is that she knew nothing about Rothstein's massive Ponzi scheme and had no intent to help his fraud.
"Christina didn't make a penny extra. She didn't get any of the perks that other people at that [law] firm got," Rodriguez said. "All she did was something that her boss told her to do."
Kitterman may have posed, at Rothstein's request, as the head of The Florida Bar's Fort Lauderdale office during an April 2009 phone conference call with his investors, but she had innocent motives, according to her defense.
Though it was Rothstein's word — when he turned government snitch for his plea agreement — that helped to bring the charges against Kitterman, federal prosecutors Lawrence LaVecchio and Paul Schwartz apparently don't plan to call Rothstein as their witness.
Instead, the prosecution is expected to call Debra Villegas, Rothstein's former right-hand woman and the firm's chief operations officer, to help prove their case. Villegas is serving 10 years in federal prison for her crimes.
Her testimony could make for an emotional confrontation in court: Villegas and Kitterman were friends, and Kitterman was one of very few supporters who attended Villegas' court appearances.
The prosecution's theory is that Kitterman posed as a Bar official to persuade investors to hand over money Rothstein needed to keep his fraud going, and that she read from a script to trick them into believing that Rothstein was facing attorney disciplinary charges.
Rothstein used RRA employees and attorneys who were not informed about the specifics of his fraud, but who agreed to engage in fraudulent acts and unlawfully obtain money and property, prosecutors allege.
"[They] intentionally engaged in the fraudulent conduct in order to enhance their positions within RRA and to curry favor with Rothstein," according to the indictment.
Kitterman, 39, who is still practicing law in Boca Raton, faces up to 20 years in prison per count if convicted, though she would likely receive a much lesser sentence.
Her defense plans to call both Rothstein and former name partner Stuart Rosenfeldt as defense witnesses to convince jurors that Kitterman was duped.
But Rothstein, 51, probably has little motivation to help Kitterman. He is still hoping that he can shave some time off his 50-year prison term by continuing to cooperate with prosecutors against his former employees and friends, more than a dozen of whom have pleaded guilty to crimes.
Among the questions prosecutors want to ask potential jurors on Monday is whether they've ever heard of Rothstein and what are their opinions on plea-bargaining.
This trial will be the first public test of Rothstein's dented credibility and a measure of his potential value as a prosecution witness. Many of his former associates will be watching carefully as they try to figure out whether the government is still coming after them, several local defense lawyers said.
Rosenfeldt, 58, of Boca Raton, tried and failed to get out of testifying in Kitterman's defense by arguing that he is still under criminal investigation and does not want to answer questions under oath that could incriminate him.
The judge ruled he must testify and he may invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions.
"I'm going to call him and let him plead the Fifth," Rodriguez said. "I think the jury needs to see the [name] partner who hasn't been charged."
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