FORT LAUDERDALE— - A South Florida nightclub impresario was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison for helping Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein lure investors by repeatedly posing as a banker.
Stephen Caputi, who co-owned the popular Café Iguana in Pembroke Pines with Rothstein, got caught up in the meteoric rise of the Fort Lauderdale lawyer who he had known for 17 years, said Caputi's attorney, Hy Shapiro.
"It got him inside the velvet ropes," Shapiro told U.S. District Judge William Zloch. "His vision was blurred and he made very,very big mistakes."
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Caputi, 54, helped Rothstein by posing at times as a banker, a plaintiff in a hefty lawsuit and a newspaper reporter, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Kaplan.
Caputi, of Lauderhill, pleaded guilty in June to a count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carried a maximum of five years behind bars. He is only the second person besides Rothstein to be sentenced in the $1.4 billion Ponzi scheme, the largest financial fraud in South Florida history.
Rothstein is serving a 50-year prison sentence for racketeering, money laundering and fraud, while the former chief operating officer of Rothstein's law firm, Debra Villegas, was sentenced to a 10-year prison term.
On Wednesday, Caputi offered an apology in a quiet, halting voice.
"I made some bad choices for the wrong reasons and I understand the consequences of that," said Caputi, who had been a fixture of the South Florida nightclub scene for more than two decades.
Caputi admitted posing as a TD Bank official on three different occasions after Rothstein arranged to meet investors in a conference room at a bank branch in Weston. Caputi would reassure investors that Rothstein's phony bank statements—which showed his accounts bulging with millions of dollars—were authentic.
Caputi once masqueraded as a plaintiff in a nonexistent lawsuit and another time, pretended to be a Wall Street Journal reporter when he contacted the owner of Silversea Cruises, Kaplan said.