Steven Steiner and Henry Fecker, III, were best known to the LGBT community in South Florida as philanthropists who helped underwrite an AIDS agency, supported not for profit foundations, and ran the annual ‘Art for AIDS’ auctions for Center 1 at the DCOTA. But both are in federal custody today, accused by the US attorney for the Southern District of money laundering charges.As the Vice President of Mutual Benefits, Steiner was instrumental in funding hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to The Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County, the National Association of People With AIDS, the AIDS Memorial Quilt, The March of Dimes, The Muscular Dystrophy Association, Food for Life, and The Children’s Diagnostic and Treatment Center. He was named Man of the Year for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and once gave a $100,000 to the Miami Center to Cure Paralysis.
In 2004, Steiner explained his philanthropic passion to Express Gay News reporter Ian Drew: “I have just known too many people who have died from diseases not to use my energy and fortune to assist others in need.” Steiner’s odyssey began in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. He started by volunteering at Center One, becoming a teacher for those who would care for the ill at the clinic, and eventually launched the buddy program to teach volunteers how to become an off-site family for the indigent.
Already accused in 2008 of taking part in the alleged multi-million dollar fraud of Mutual Benefits Corporation, the new charges represent the worsening of a nightmare for Steiner, now 59. Assistant US Attorney Jerob Duffy says he will seek the pre-trial detention of Steiner, first for the new charges, and second, for violating the bond conditions of his original case, now tentatively set for a 2013 trial. His bond hearing is set for Tuesday in Miami federal court.
The latest indictment, 54 counts, accuses Steiner and his partner Fecker of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and laundering millions of dollars through homes in the Northeast, by hiding assets from federal authorities and lying to a court-appointed receiver who was seeking to reimburse fleeced investors. The indictment alleges the financial scam covered up an attempt “to support a lavish lifestyle.”
Steiner was charged in the original fraud indictment, along with his brother, Joel Steinger, and two Fort Lauderdale lawyers, Anthony M. Livoti, and Michael McNerney, the only one of whom has pled guilty. The allegations of the original indictment have been steadfastly denied by Steiner, Steinger, and Livoti. Each have retained prominent lawyers, maintained their innocence, and dispute the prosecution’s claims, insisting that none of them committed any of the alleged wrongful acts, from fraud to money laundering.
Steiner’s attorney, Richard Lubin, again told the Miami Herald yesterday that his client maintains his presumption and plea of innocence, and further, the “new indictment repeats the same money-laundering charges cited in the previous criminal case.” Lubin stated the new charges were “improper.” He will be asking for his client’s continued release on a new bond.
The latest criminal case accuses Steiner and his partner of new acts following the original indictment, by plotting to funnel nearly $11 million of Mutual Benefits proceeds through a consulting business, using the money for their Northeastern homes and lying about the real value of their assets to the court-appointed receiver for Mutual Benefits.
The indictment alleges that the couple submitted a series of false and misleading documents, orchestrating and designing a conspiratorial plan to conceal their true financial condition. By doing so, the US attorney says, they together interfered with the duties of a court appointed receiver to marshal together the assets of the original investment scheme, which were to be used to return money to alleged victims. Steiner’s attorney vigorously denied the latest claims.
It is a long way from 2004, when Larry Wald, the former owner of the now legendary Cathode Ray Bar on Las Olas Boulevard, commented about his work with Steiner on numerous fund-raising projects, “You can’t say enough about his energy, kindness, and efforts. He has a great management style and is a marvelous team leader and team player. And he is totally devoted to the cause.” That is not the way the US attorney sees it anymore.
Editor’s Note: An indictment is a written accusatory instrument, handed up by a grand jury, composed of 23 citizens, presented evidence solely by the US attorney, often without the knowledge of a defendant or his counsel to present their side of the case. It alleges specific criminal conduct, but in any criminal case, guilt must be proven beyond and to the exclusion of any reasonable doubt. After an indictment, an accused is arrested and brought before a judge, who determines, what, if any, bond should be set, which insures the defendant’s appearance at trial. Under the federal rules of criminal procedure, there are certain circumstances where the government may ask for pre-trial detention and deny a defendant a bond. The government is seeking to invoke that power in this case.