Miami federal judge refuses to open documents in Mutual Benefits case

(SUN SENTINAL)   MIAMI – A Miami federal judge has rejected requests from area newspapers to unseal secret documents in the high profile federal prosecution involving Fort Lauderdale-based Mutual Benefits Corp.

In a terse one-page order issued this afternoon, U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan stated “all of the filings currently under seal shall remain under seal for the time being.”

Jordan provided no explanation, but said he would issue a second ruling by April 28 detailing his decision that the documents should remain secret.

Federal prosecutors accuse the founders of Mutual Benefits and two prominent area attorneys of running a giant Ponzi scheme through the defunct viatical firm that bilked investors worldwide out of more than $800 million.

Since January, more than two dozen documents in the case have been filed under seal, shielding the records from the public. Under federal law, that is generally not permitted.

Last month, lawyers for the South Florida Sun Sentinel and The MiamiHerald asked Jordan to release the documents.

Deanna Shullman, an attorney representing the Sun Sentinel, had argued that secrecy in the Mutual Benefits case would raise questions about the integrity of the justice system because the company had deep connections to influential lobbyists and politicians in South Florida.

Neither defense lawyers nor federal prosecutors have publicly explained what the filings pertain to or why they should be kept secret. It is likely the documents would shed light on why two federal judges decided to step aside from the case, citing undisclosed conflicts of interest.

Two senior officials in the U.S. Attorney’s Office have also recused themselves from involvement in the prosecution.

Before being shut down in 2004, Mutual Benefits nurtured deep ties to elected officials inBroward County and helped raise more than $1.4 million for politicians and political groups.

Defendants Joel Steinger, Steven Steiner, Michael McNerney and Anthony Livoti Jr., have all pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering.,0,819604.story

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