4 stars out of 5
In 2010, if my research is accurate, Scott Rothstein - managing shareholder, chairman and CEO of Florida law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler - received a 50-year prison sentence for masterminding a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme involving the purchase of fabricated "structured settlements." Rothstein "fingered" several others he claimed were involved in the scheme, including Stephen Caputi, author of this book. The Ponzi scheme, it should be noted, has been called one of the largest since the early 1700s.
Throughout the book, a copy of which I was provided at no cost in exchange for a review, Caputi maintains he had no knowledge of the Ponzi scheme, how it was executed or how much money was involved, even though in retrospect he admits he should not have carried out some questionable orders from his long-time friend Rothstein. And, because he knew nothing, he insists he was wrongly convicted. Whether readers believe him or not - clearly, the court did not, sentencing him to five years in prison - this book (which I received at no cost in exchange for a review) is worth reading if only to get an eye-opening look at what can be the harsh reality of life behind bars as well as the inner workings of at least one U.S. prison.
Caputi also describes his life before the fall - one filled with nightclubs, beautiful women and just about anything money can buy. He also paints a vivid picture of Rothstein, who was richer than God and routinely tipped champagne glasses with heavy-hitter names like Bush, McCain and Trump. What he doesn't describe, however, are details of the Ponzi scheme - understandable, I suppose, since spilling the beans in a book after the fact would suggest he really did know what was going on.
Along the way, he did make a couple of statements that to me were revealing, starting with, "Identifying and recognizing the upstream and downstream of payola as it flowed throughout the scammed infrastructure was second nature to me." Later, in reference to his 30 years in the nightclub business, he wrote, "One of my special practiced skills...was to read people and situations in an instant." It seemed to me, then, a bit of a stretch to believe he didn't have at least an inkling that something was rotten in Rothstein-land. On the other hand, they'd been fast friends for years (or so Caputi thought), and clearly, Rothstein was nothing if not a manipulator of people to the nth degree.
Released from a halfway house in December 2014, Caputi says his goal today is working to bring about prison reform. To be sure, the picture he paints isn't even close to pretty: Spoiled food, withholding of "rights" such as exercise, showers and phone calls, the costs of sundry items like batteries that far exceed the going rate on the "outside" - not to mention cells for two barely bigger than a breadbox. Given my picky eating habits and claustrophobia (albeit relatively mild), I have no doubt I'd have become a total basket case within a day or two. In fact, Caputi came close on more than one occasion, so no wonder he rails about the lousy conditions - often in very colorful language, in case that matters to anyone.
That's not the only thing that's got a bug in his bonnet; he also tackles the issue of marijuana legalization (of interest to me because, with a couple of days of writing this review, voters will be deciding whether or not it will be allowed for both medical and recreational purposes in my state of Ohio). Privatization of prisons is another issue, as are legal reforms and overall government practices he says are designed to keep regular Joes and Jills (and their businesses) in line and make huge profits in the process. Through it all, he serves up tons of figures and statistics to prove his points. Some of them I agree with and others I don't, but either way, it's all quite interesting and a makes for a very readable, thought-provoking book.
I Should Have Stayed in Morocco: My misadventures with billionaire Ponzi-Schemer Scott Rothstein by Stephen Caputi (Twilight Times Books, October 2015); 304 pp.