Veteran attorney Howard Kusnick is scheduled to surrender for his part in the epic Scott Rothstein fraud on Tuesday at the federal courthouse.
Kusnick, left, with his son, far right, and a friend
The former lobbyist and political player is alleged to have used his attorney status to help Rothstein orchestrate a $57 million scam on prominent car dealer Ed Morse involving a civil lawsuit. To help trick the Morse family into turning over millions of dollars, Kusnick posed as an attorney for a third party whom he didn’t represent at all. Amazingly, Kusnick even sent the Morses a signed letter to further the ruse.
The Morse money was used to pay off previous investors in Rothstein’s billion-dollar Ponzi scheme. While Kusnick claims he had no idea about the Ponzi, he has cooperated with federal officials and has cknowledged committing the audacious crime against the Morse family. Here’s a brief statement issued by his attorney, Miami’s Kendall Coffey:
“Although Howard Kusnick was completely unaware of Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme, he accepts full responsibility for the wrongful actions he took. Howard is deeply remorseful and apologizes to all concerned, including his family from whom he has withheld the truth about his wrongdoing.”
Of all the lawyers close to Rothstein, none worked with him longer than Kusnick. The two men formed a law firm together in Sunrise two decades ago. Kusnick & Rothstein was in business from 1991 through 1998, years during which Rothstein was a workaday employment lawyer living in a middle-class home in Plantation with his first wife. Kusnick was higher-profile at the time, representing garbage companies and playing an active role in the politics of Sunrise.
But if you listen to what people are saying about Kusnick, you might think he helped teach Rothstein a lot of his dirty tricks. Former Sun-Sentinel political columnist Buddy Nevins calls Kusnick a lying “piece of slime” and Sunrise Commissioner Sheila Alu, who is also a state prosecutor, says flatly that Kusnick is “evil.”
Alu has good reason to say such a thing. When she challenged the garbage contract held by Kusnick’s employer, All Service Refuse, the attorney went on a campaign to intimidate and smear her in the press. He even hired a private detective to track her who ran her off the road and circled her home at odd hours.
“He pulled my divorce file and sent to reporters, he had a private investigator follow me,” Alu told me. “Kusnick intimidated and harassed me. He is the person I blame for everything that happened to me at that time.”
Alu says that Kusnick had a major impact on her life, ironically in positive fashion. The fight with Kusnick and All-Service prompted Alu to contact the FBI, which in turn recruited her to help in the agency’s anti-corruption efforts.
“In a way Kusnick is the one who made me what I am today,” she says. “I had a choice either to be afraid or to fight back and I decided to fight back.”
Kusnick, however, has chosen not to fight back against the feds, likely a wise move. With the fraud charge, it seems he’s finally paying for his deceit — and the price may extend beyond his legal problems. The mention of his family in the official Kusnick statement is telling. I’ve always found it interesting how some financial predators maintain a seemingly loving and devoted family life. In Kusnick’s case he’d started a sports agency called Double Diamond Sports Management with his son that has signed several legitimate baseball players. Last year, Kusnick sued a top prospect, Kellin Deglan, the 22nd pick in the 2010 draft, claiming Deglan failed to pay a $50,000 commission to Double Diamond when he signed with the Texas Ranger for $1 million.
The status of that suit today isn’t known, but you can imagine that Deglan might be one of the many people breathing a sigh of relief at the news of Kusnick’s impending criminal conviction. That Kusnick has had 18 months to continue to practice law since Rothstein’s implosion provides yet more evidence that the Florida Bar — where Kusnick, like Rothstein, has served as an official — is a sad and hopeless institution.
The fallout of this case may even extend to Kusnick’s physical health. A source told me Kusnick suffered a heart attack last week, just as news about his impending arrest began to percolate in the media. I asked attorney Coffey about it. “I can’t comment on that,” said Coffey, who represented the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler firm after the Ponzi implosion. “I’m not authorized to do so by the family.”
When asked if Kusnick was in the hospital, Coffey said simply, “He’s going to be okay.”
And justice will finally be served.
“He should have been arrested a long time ago because he’s an evil person that will do anything to anyone to make money,” Alu says. “Kusnick and Rothstein deserve each other.”