Nathan Rothschild enters the Federal Courthouse in White Plains on Tuesday
The former Monsey fire commissioner who attempted to defraud taxpayers in a real estate scheme to pay off a six-figure personal debt was sentenced Tuesday to 12 months and one day in prison.
Nathan Rothschild, 54, the ex-fire district chairman and former president of the East Ramapo Board of Education, had sought probation after pleading guilty to one count of mail fraud in the summer.
In addition to the prison time, Rothschild was sentenced to two years of post-release supervision. Federal prosecutors had recommended 27 to 33 months in prison.
Rothschild admitted in federal court in White Plains that he suggested his two former business partners buy some property for $700,000 and he would make sure the fire district bought the land from them for $1.2 million to $1.3 million. Ultimately, the fire district voted to buy the land for $125,000 more than the partners paid for it, and Rothschild intended to use the profit to help satisfy his debt to the partners – but by that point they had already contacted federal investigators and were working to build a case against him using secretly taped audio recordings of their meetings.
Snippets of one tape were played in court Tuesday as prosecutors rejected Rothschild’s statements that he acted under duress and mental illness. Prosecutor Douglas B. Bloom said the tapes demonstrate Rothschild was “calm and in control” as he went forward with the scheme, aware that it was a felony.
“This is not a case of duress,” Bloom said. “This is a very simple care of an elected official using his position to satisfy his personal debt. He should be treated like anybody else,” who does this.
Rothschild resigned from the East Ramapo Board of Education just before the federal charges were filed in April. He had been voted off the Monsey Fire Commission in December 2010 after 15 years on the board.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas said in making his decision, he considered an outpouring of community support for Rothschild in the form of letters to the court lauding his volunteerism and character as well as pleas for leniency expressed at the sentencing
With about a dozen of Rothschild’s relatives and friends in the courtroom, Rothschild’s brother Zeev; his rabbi, Ephraim Pessin; and Monsey Fire Commissioner Jonathan Kaufman spoke for more than 30 minutes, citing Rothschild’s long history of civic and religious community service.
They asked Karas to consider Rothschild’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder and his health problems in the sentence. Rothschild entered and exited the courthouse by using a walker.
“When I add it all up … a typical sentence is not appropriate in this case,” Karas said, in issuing the sentence after more than two hours of discussion.
Karas said Rothschild’s good deeds were “at the heart of the tragedy of this case,” but reminded those in the courtroom that the public would have been out at least $125,000 if the government had not “pulled the plug” on the fraud.
“We have to be able to trust our public officials. The public’s trust was betrayed here,” Karas said.
Rothschild was given the last word.
“There are no excuses for the crime I committed,” he said. “I ask that you show me mercy in some way for the many years of community service that I have done.”
Outside the courtroom, Rothschild’s attorney, Michael Burnbaum, called the ruling fair.
He said he didn’t expect his client to appeal the sentence.
The sentencing began with an element of intrigue as Karas announced he had been notified Monday that Burnbaum was the subject of current Massachusetts State Bar proceedings. The probe, through which Burnbaum could potentially be disbarred, was sparked by a complaint filed against him in November in Massachusetts.
Karas questioned Burnbaum about the proceedings and concluded that since he was still in good standing with the Massachusetts State Bar and the case was long over, there was no issue about his ability to counsel Rothschild. Rothschild, who said he had known of Burnbaum’s criminal conviction, said he chose to keep Burnbaum as his lawyer