From our media partner Sun Sentinel: A well-known South Florida lawyer who played a supporting role in a massive life insurance investment scheme that defrauded 30,000 victims was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison Tuesday and ordered to pay more than $826 million in restitution

Anthony Livoti Jr., 65, of Fort Lauderale, who was best known as a police union lawyer and for his advocacy work for the gay community, was convicted in December after a three-month trial.

Shackled and dressed in khaki jail scrubs, Livoti showed the emotion of a scared man fighting to save himself from spending the rest of his life in prison, but he also displayed the skills of a tough lawyer who fought for his clients in his more than 40-year career.

"I had a life that was always filled with joy. I now have a life that is filled with sadness," Livoti said, speaking of the three months that he has already spent locked up in the Federal Detention Center in Miami since his conviction.

The Ponzi scheme bought out life insurance policies at discount prices from people who were dying of AIDS, cancer and other terminal conditions. What became known as the Mutual Benefits scam, led by Joel Steinger and his brothers, sold the policies to investors who expected to make a profit by receiving the full insured value when the beneficiaries died.

Jurors took an extraordinarily long eight days of deliberations to find Livoti guilty of conspiring to commit fraud and money laundering and other charges, but found him not guilty of 20 related counts.

Livoti, the only defendant who went to trial in the case, finally acknowledged his guilt in court Tuesday after long denying it.

"I lost my way and I wish I could go back and change it," Livoti said, apologizing to the victims for what he called the "terrible wrong" he committed.

Sentencing guidelines suggested a punishment of 80 years. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rochlin recommended a 30-year term and the defense asked for six years in prison – twice the punishment that Livoti would have received if he took the last plea agreement prosecutors offered before he went to trial.

Livoti, the son of a New York state judge, told U.S. District Judge Robert Scola Jr. that he had already lost his reputation, his career and his freedom.

Livoti insisted that he had thought he was innocent of the charges until he went to trial and heard the evidence against him. He said he had thought that the problems with Mutual Benefits were caused because medical advances were helping people with AIDS live longer than expected and even survive.

He begged the judge to give him hope, which he said he had lost, that he would not die in prison and could some day be released to spend the rest of his life with his husband, Michael Porter. He said he also wants to try to make amends for his crimes. The felony convictions mean he will lose his law license.

"Judge, I am a life worth saving," Livoti said.

The couple, who met in 1999 and later married in New York, lived a relatively modest lifestyle, defense attorney Joel Hirschorn told the judge. They shared a 1,350-square-foot home in Fort Lauderdale that Livoti bought in the 1970s, and Porter works as a teacher in the Broward County School District.

Porter wept as he told the judge how much he respected Livoti's long history of advocating for gay rights and for the charitable work they both did for people with AIDS, having both lost many close friends to the disease.

"Please take into consideration all of the good Tony has brought into the world," Porter asked the judge.

The defense acknowledged that Livoti received $900,000 over about 10 years for his work for Mutual Benefits, but Porter said the couple never had an extravagant lifestyle.

Dozens of supporters crowded into the courtroom and many more wrote letters urging leniency for Livoti, who they said worked for free or greatly reduced rates for police officers, gay causes and charitable groups. One former employee wrote that Livoti secretly refused to bill for low-income juvenile defendants he was court-appointed to represent because he hoped to make a difference in their lives.

Retired Broward County Judge Robert Zack, a 30-year friend, was one of the supporters who spoke on Livoti's behalf in the federal courtroom in Miami.

"He has an impeccable reputation," Zack said, "he's a lawyers' lawyer,"

Union representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police praised Livoti's dedication while other members wrote separately to say they were disgusted by what he had done and were upset that the union was officially supporting him.

Prosecutors said he abused his position as an attorney and violated the public trust.

Scola gave Livoti credit for his long history of charitable work and for performing what he said was "significant community service," but said the massive fraud was "something that's way above the norm."

Livoti played a third-tier role — below Joel Steinger and his brothers — in the Fort Lauderdale-based scam, but it was still a significant role for a professional lawyer, Scola said.

Tears dripped from Livoti's face as he silently cried and looked down when he finally heard his fate.

At the end of the sentencing, Scola asked the lawyers the routine legal question of whether they had any objections — but it was Livoti, not his defense team, who replied.

Livoti made an extraordinary request for the judge to immediately reconsider the sentence he had just imposed.

"That's a long time for me," Livoti said.

Scola replied that he had sentenced Livoti to one-eighth of the sentence recommended by the guidelines and said the victims "will probably not be celebrating my sentencing."

"That's basically my life," Livoti replied, going on to list the ages at which his parents and other family members had died — mostly in their 60s and 70s — as Porter and some of the couple's friends sobbed.


BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS