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Updated Apr 4, 2014 - 10:35 am

Ex-partner of Ponzi schemer pleads guilty

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -- A former law partner of convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein pleaded guilty Friday to violating federal campaign finance laws by funneling tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of John McCain and Charlie Crist.

Russell Adler, 52, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence and up to $250,000 in fines plus potential restitution. U.S. District Judge James Cohn will sentence Adler on June 27.

According to prosecutors, Adler was one of the orchestrators of an illegal scheme to bundle contributions from the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm to McCain's 2008 campaign for president and Crist's run for the U.S. Senate. Crist, a former Republican governor, lost the Senate race and now is running for governor again as a Democrat.

There is no evidence either campaign was aware of the illegal contributions. Crist later returned the contributions but the McCain campaign had already disbursed the money by the time the Rothstein scam imploded in fall 2009.

Adler admitted as part of his plea agreement that the firm employees were later reimbursed for their contributions, which violates campaign finance law. Some checks were backdated and had notations on them indicating they were for bonuses, according to court documents.

The point of the fundraisers and campaign checks, court documents say, was to "increase the stature and apparent political power" of the law firm and to influence politicians to steer government appointments and contracts to the once high-flying firm -- which is now defunct.

"I plead guilty, your honor," Adler told Cohn during the brief hearing. He and his attorney, Fred Haddad, declined comment afterward.

Adler's plea agreement also states that he will cooperate in the ongoing probe into Rothstein's $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme and related investigations, such as the illegal campaign finance operation. Adler has consistently said he was not part of the Ponzi fraud, which involved investments in confidential legal settlements that turned out to be phony.

If Adler's cooperation is satisfactory, prosecutors could seek a reduction in his prison sentence. However, the felony conviction will mean Adler's disbarment as a practicing attorney.

More than a dozen other people have been convicted in the case, which began in late 2009 when Rothstein's fraud scam began to unravel. Rothstein himself pleaded guilty to several charges and his serving a 50-year prison sentence. The firm's third named partner, Stuart Rosenfeldt, has not been charged and denies wrongdoing.

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Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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