FORT LAUDERDALE — Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley’s friendship with admitted Ponzi scheme mastermind Scott W. Rothstein has raised eyebrows at city hall – and beyond.
Adderley has been seen and/or photographed with Rothstein at various locations, including the scene of a motor-vehicle accident, dining regularly at a restaurant owned by Rothstein, and attending sporting events with Rothstein.
The association has prompted city commissioners to call for an investigation into Adderley’s relationship with the fallen former lawyer.
FBI investigators say Rothstein hoped that his friendships with high-level law enforcement officials would keep them from investigating his finances.
In a recent interview with the South Florida Times, Adderley said he has not received anything from Rothstein without paying for it.
Yet some critics say Adderley exercised poor judgment in allowing himself to be associated with Rothstein.
“I have never gotten anything free from Scott Rothstein,’’ Adderley said. “The guy fooled everyone, but we were not close friends, and Frank Adderley has never received any gifts, free meals, football tickets, or anything else from Scott Rothstein. Not a thing.”
He continued: “I did go to a football game in New York. Rothstein was on the flight, but the jet belonged to my personal friend, (auto dealership owner) Ed Morse, not Rothstein. When I found out it should have been reported as a gift, I filed the [gift disclosure] form.”
Appearances with Rothstein
Adderley’s numerous appearances with Rothstein have been chronicled in blogs and other news media outlets. The attention the media has produced about the appearances prompted the city’s mayor and two commissioners to request the internal investigation.
“I believe Chief Adderley has managed the department well and will make some positive policy and budgetary improvements,” Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Romney C. Rogers said. “However, the internal investigation was warranted and further investigations would certainly be required if any hint of any criminal violations are uncovered.”
Mayor Jack Seiler expressed similar views.
“I am hopeful that the investigation gets completed quickly. I welcome a full public review, because the public has a right, and a need to know,” Seiler explained.
In response to city commissioners’ request, Fort Lauderdale’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS) has taken statements from more than a dozen people, and is wrapping up its investigation.
OPS Director Robert “Bob” Bates did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment. Adderley, however, offered some insight into the relationship.
“I have provided a statement, but I won’t discuss that because it is an ongoing investigation,’’ Adderley said. “But I am here to answer any questions and clear up all the rumors and misinformation that’s out there.’’
FBI agents on Dec. 1, 2009 arrested Rothstein. He pleaded guilty in federal court in Fort Lauderdale Wednesday to five counts of racketeering, fraud and money laundering related to the $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.
Before his arrest, Rothstein presented himself as a high-profile, high-rolling philanthropist who donated millions to charities. He befriended business leaders, professional athletes and movie stars. The law firm he helped found in 2002, Rothstein, Rosenfeldt, Adler (RRA), rose to prominence by hiring high-profile lawyers, former judges and politicians who had courthouse influence and connections inside government agencies.
Rothstein apparently sought to extend his circle of influence to Fort Lauderdale’s police chief.
Internet postings allege that Adderley ate and drink at Rothstein’s restaurant, Bova Prime, at no charge, an allegation the restaurant’s former manager denies.
“That’s ridiculous. I never saw him sign or get his check picked up by anyone. I don’t know who these anonymous sources are, because I am the one person who would know and it never happened,” said Jeffrey Shulman, the former manager at Bova Prime, who has since been laid off due to a decline in business. “He didn’t have any house account and never ate or drink off of anyone’s tab.”
Other postings stated that Adderley attended NFL and college football games in Rothstein’s luxury box at Sun Life Stadium, formerly Dolphin Stadium, at no charge.
Adderley insists that he only met Rothstein after he hired Rothstein’s firm to represent his wife, Eleanor, who was arrested for firing shots at Adderley after she learned of an affair in 2008.
Eleanor Adderley eventually switched to another attorney and pleaded no contest to charges of aggravated assault with a firearm and shooting in an occupied dwelling. She remains in a Broward County jail.
“That’s how I came to know him,” Adderley said of his relationship with Rothstein. “Since that time I would see him from time to time and he would invite me to games, but I always told him I had to pay for the tickets, and could not accept any gifts.”
$10,000 Jet Flight
Adderley says he and Rothstein did attend a Dolphins vs. New York Jets game in New York in 2008, and a Dolphins pre-season game for about an hour in 2009 together. Adderley said he paid $515 in cash for all of the tickets, including a Miami Hurricanes game in 2009, which he says Rothstein didn’t attend.
“I was invited to the game by Ted Morse, [son of Ed Morse], not Rothstein, but it was he [Rothstein] that had the tickets, which I paid for,” Adderley said.
Adderley flew to the New York Jets game on a private jet owned by Morse on Dec. 28, 2008 along with about 14 other people. He did not pay for the flight, and did not report it as a gift until nearly a year later, on Dec. 6, 2009.
When Adderley did file the disclosure form for the flight with the Florida Commission on Ethics, he reported it as receiving a $220 gift from Ted Morse, not Rothstein. Experts say such a flight actually costs much more.
“Depending on the size and type of the jet, a round trip from South Florida to New York costs about $8,500 to $10,000 on a small jet,” explained Anthony C. Robinson, an owner of Opa-locka Flightline, a company at the Opa-locka Airport that books private jet flights. “The $220 is more in line with a commercial flight, not a private jet.”
Adderley said, and the Florida Commission on Ethics confirmed, that state law only requires that Adderley’s cost estimate for the flight be based on the price of a commercial coach ticket. The agency also said that any possible consequences for filing the form late could be determined only by the ethics commission members, depending on the circumstances, and only if a complaint has been filed. As of press time on Thursday, no complaint had been filed.
“There are no automatic audits of late gift forms, or fines as there are for a late financial disclosure form,” said Florida Commission on Ethics spokesperson Kerrie Stillman.
Adderley said, “I had no idea I had to pay for the flight, or report it as a gift. When the city attorney told me it had to be reported, I filed the forms. No one ever explained or informed me that was required, and it was an oversight and an honest mistake.”
An ethics expert, however, said that while governmental entities should provide training on filing the proper gift disclosure forms in a timely manner, ignorance of the law is no excuse for non-compliance.
“Public entities should provide training, including refresher courses,” said Joseph W. Little, a professor at the University of Florida’s Levin School of Law who has taught ethics and government employment in the United States and abroad. “The absence of them, however, should not be deemed to be an excuse for violating laws, if any were violated.”
Little, a constitutional scholar who served as a Gainesville city commissioner from 1972 to 1978, said he understands why Adderley’s actions could raise suspicions in the community.
“My opinion of public opinion, for whatever mine is worth, is that the public would be suspicious and uneasy,’’ Little said in an email to the South Florida Times. “The morale of the department would be damaged if the chief had attempted to inculcate a strong sense of public trust. Otherwise, the ‘public morals’ of the department would likely follow those demonstrated or perceived to be in those of the chief.”
Little added: “The chief’s ‘filing of paperwork’ should not be the end of the matter. The city commission should take care to have an investigation conducted by the official to whom the chief answers.’’
Adderley reports to City Manager George Gretsas, but Gretsas did not order the investigation.
After photographs surfaced showing Adderley standing with Rothstein at an Aug. 21, 2009 accident scene, commissioners sought answers.
Seiler, Vice Mayor Bruce Roberts, who preceded Adderley as Fort Lauderdale police chief, and Commissioner Charlotte Rodstrom requested the internal investigation.
In addition to the internal investigation, Roberts and Rodstrom made separate requests to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate. An FDLE spokesperson said the agency has made no determination about whether to investigate.
Adderley said he remembers getting a call from Rothstein about a mutual friend, Mo Sohail, who was injured in the accident. Sohail is the owner of Ultimate Cigars, an upscale smoke shop in Fort Lauderdale that Adderley frequents.
“I’ve known Mo for years and met him when I started buying cigars from his shop,” Adderley explained.
“When I got to the scene, Mo was injured, and was a passenger. The only communication I had with the officer was
I asked him if he needed any assistance and that was it,’’ Adderley said. “I had no communication with either of the two drivers involved in the accident.”
Seiler said he gets updates from staff on the status of the city’s internal investigation, and expects it to be completed soon. He said he has no indication that Adderley has done anything wrong.
“I think he might have had a lapse in judgment over the flight, but he runs a good department,” Seiler said. “My current position is that I still have full faith and complete confidence in Chief Adderley.”
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley