March 26, 2009

Judge hears newspapers’ complaints

A federal judge in Miami closed a court hearing on sealed documents involved in a massive Ponzi scheme fraud case, over media objections.

U.S. district Judge Adalberto Jordan said he would rule on whether or not to unseal the records in the coming weeks, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Thursday.

Both The Miami Herald and the Sun Sentinel have pressed the court to release documents in the Mutual Benefits Corp. case.

Defendants Joel Steinger, Steven Steiner Michael McNerney and Anthony Livoti Jr., founders and attorneys for the folded up company, are accused of defrauding investors of $800 million.

At the hearing, Deanna Shullman, representing the Sun Sentinel, said sealing court records required extraordinary circumstances.

Greater access is the best medicine to restore the public's faith and confidence in these proceedings, Shullman said.

The case also includes ties to South Florida politics. The company and it's allies made more than $1.4 million in political donations from 2002 through 2004, the newspaper said. In addition, two previous judges refused to handle the case citing undisclosed conflicts of interest, the newspaper said.