Anti-mafia officers on both sides of the Atlantic portrayed Miami Beach wine merchant Roberto Settineri as a big shot worthy of a starring role in The Godfather.
``The mafia in Italy could live through the work of Settineri in the United States,'' Raffaele Grassi, a senior Italian police official, said in a March news conference at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami.
But the reality wasn't as dramatic as the billing. Despite three years of intense scrutiny -- by undercover FBI agents, Broward Sheriff's Office deputies, confidential informants, surveillance and wiretaps -- investigators hadn't been able to pin the cigar-chomping Settineri with even a two-bit crime.
Until Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein fell into their laps.
Rothstein had come to know the 41-year-old Settineri through a South Beach restaurant. And nobody was in a better position to pose as a desperate, dishonest man who needed help from a reputed mobster: In late October, the high-flying Fort Lauderdale lawyer had just been outed by the media as the mastermind of a massive investment scam.
Pretending that the feds were on his heels, Rothstein -- who had not yet been charged but was cooperating with the FBI -- reached out and secretly recorded conversations with the Italian-born Settineri, asking him to destroy documents and move cash around.
Settineri took the bait, according to federal prosecutors. The FBI arrested him in March, after five months of surveillance and secret recordings that allegedly show him and two other men accepting $79,000 from Rothstein to carry out the job. By then, Rothstein had pleaded guilty to racketeering.
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