I recently finished “Miles Away, Worlds Apart” by Alan Sakowitz, an attorney and real estate investor whose path crossed with Scott Rothstein, an attorney and one time Ponzi scheme artist. Billed by some as a “criminal thriller,” I found it to be more of cautionary tale, a combination memoir and homage to the good people in Sakowitz’s life compared to the tragic flamboyance that he found in Scott Rothstein.
Sakowitz first met Rothstein when he was invited to participate in an investment in what was billed as “structured settlements,” a scheme that would return investment of at least 20 percent, often more, in as short a time as three months. The structured settlements turned out to actually be pre-settlement funding or financing, and the promised return on investment would often be astronomical, even unbelievable. Investors, upon committing to secrecy, were investing large amounts of money and receiving large returns. Rothstein was a respected member of the bar, a partner in a reputable and growing law firm, politically well connected, and philanthropically generous. His sales pitch was convincing, and people were trusting him with their money to the tune of over $1.2 billion dollars.
But, as has been astutely noted elsewhere, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” and so thought Sakowitz. A veteran real estate investor and attorney, he began to do his due diligence on the scheme, and red flags began to pop up everywhere. The more he researched, the more questionable the investment seemed, and the less the numbers would add up. Finally, he concluded that what was going on had to be illegal, and he called the FBI.
The rest is history. Rothstein fled to Morocco just in front of an FBI warrant to search his law offices, one of a few countries that does not have an extradition treaty to the United States. He returned later, upon pleading from his partners, and turned himself into the FBI to cooperate in their investigation. Disbard for life, he was later sentenced to 50 years in prison, and is serving his time in a federal detention center in Miami.
That’s the Rothstein story, but it’s not half of the book. What makes Sakowitz’s book interesting and worth reading is the dichotomous nature in which he has written it. Instead of weaving a tale about Rothstein’s corruption, hubris, and crimes, which he does do, Sakowitz also intersperes the account with anecdotes about the selfless individuals that have added value and meaning to Sakowitz’s life. His stories include those of his parents, rabbis, community members, individuals he admires from afar, and others who he has seen selflessly give of themselves to others. It is intended as a contrast to Rothstein’s selfishness, and it is an intimate and touching portrait of many of the unsung heroes of our world. All too often we hear and read about the people and egos who thrust themselves into our consciousness in the news and media, and it is refreshing to hear the stories of those who quietly go about doing good without any hope or expectation of reward. Although I do not share Sakowitz’s faith, as a person of faith myself, I found much in Sakowitz’s book in common with people in my own life, and I was inspired by the thought that there are people out there doing good for good’s sake alone.
Scott Rothstein was a selfish fool, and his greed hurt a lot of people. But fortunately, there are good people out there, too and in Sakowitz’s account we see a few of them. They are unsung, usually, and only quietly going about doing good. But it is their actions and choices that give me hope that in the end we can choose the good side of our nature–what Sakowitz calls the “right side” of our hearts–over the bad.
[Previously published at PubliusOnline.com]