Harvey Weinstein’s ‘prison consultant': Ex-broker-dealer executive and ex-con who advocates for inmates
Craig Rothfeld’s first step to becoming Harvey Weinstein’s prison consultant began when he was barred from the securities industry.
A series of missteps led him to a total of 18 months in various New York state correctional facilities. Now, the ex-broker-dealer executive is guiding the former Hollywood movie producer through his time in prison.
A natural salesman who liked people and was fascinated by financial markets, Rothfeld found a good fit in the securities industry. After nearly a decade in the business, he rose to become CEO of WJB Capital Group, a New York City-based institutional broker dealer in 2008.
Reflecting on what landed him in prison, Rothfeld now says he made "some horrible choices and horrible decisions."
He says he takes "full responsibility" for his choices, accepts the consequences, "is incredibly remorseful for what happened," regretting the harm caused to his family, employees and investors.
After Rothfeld took the top job at WJB Capital Group, the firm seemed to thrive. But its success — and its legitimacy — wasn't what it seemed.
Rothfeld and majority owner Michael Romano were actually withdrawing "significant sums" of investors money from the firm's bank accounts for personal uses, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
They used some of the funds to pay for lavish personal expenses, including trips to nightclubs, hotels and country clubs, the District Attorney said. They also filed false reports with FINRA and underreported their income tax.
Once you’re in prison most criminal attorneys really can’t help you.
WJB shut down in 2012 and FINRA permanently barred Rothfeld from working in the securities industry. In 2015, he and Romano pled guilty in New York State Supreme Court to various charges, including grand larceny, securities fraud and tax crimes.
Rothfeld and Romano admitted to stealing approximately $11 million from WJB investors. Manhattan D. A. Cyrus Vance noted that victims included “employees of the defendants’ own company, and even friends and family members.”
The seeds of a new career
Before Rothfeld began his 1 1/2-to-four year state prison sentence, his attorney encouraged him to learn as much as he could about New York State’s Department of Corrections.
The greatest source of information for Rothfeld's prison consultancy business was other inmates.
“He told me that once you’re in prison most criminal attorneys really can’t help you,” Rothfeld recalls. “You’re really lost, and there’s a real void in expertise about the prison system.”
Rothfeld researched the department’s rules and regulations to better understand the byzantine world of life inside prison. He read law school studies, accessed LexisNexis and interviewed former inmates.
Not only did the research help prepare Rothfeld for incarceration, it sparked the idea for a consultancy specializing in helping white-collar criminals navigate the New York State prison system.
“The seed was planted before I went in,” Rothfeld says. “I knew other people would need help too. I took in three notebooks to do more research and get as granular as I could.”
All told, Rothfeld spent a total of 18 months in various New York state correctional facilities, including Manhattan’s notorious Riker’s Island, before being released on a work-release program followed by a year of parole.
“The greatest source of information [for his consultancy business] was other inmates,” he says.
What did Rothfeld learn about life behind bars as a white-collar criminal?
- Never use your education as a weapon – All inmates must be treated with equal respect — and aren’t shy about demanding it.
- Don’t eavesdrop – Personal boundaries are extremely important in prison.
- Don’t invite yourself into conversations – It shows a lack of respect.
- Don’t fight over the TV – It’s not worth it.
- Don’t fight over the phones – Ditto.
- Don’t gamble – You don’t want to be indebted to anyone in prison.
As for the best use of time in prison, especially for inmates with a professional background, Rothfeld advises his clients with a professional background to take advantage of the library, especially the law library, to familiarize themselves with rules and regulations.
Establishing a daily routine and regular physical exercise is also critical. “You want to have a sense of purpose,” he stresses.
Inmates with a securities industry background also can help less educated prisoners, Rothfeld says, especially with financial matters, their commissary accounts and preparation for certification programs such as high school equivalency diplomas.
Besides having their own reward, such charitable acts are not overlooked when prisoners are up for review by parole boards.
‘Families are doing the time with you.’
Soon after he was released from prison in the summer of 2017, Rothfeld started Inside Outside Ltd.
The impact incarceration had on Rothfeld’s own family was "the driving force and motivator" to start the company, he says.
“Families are doing the time with you,” Rothfeld says. “They are on the same journey. Everybody finds themselves in a perilous situation.”
Indeed, both convicts and their families need help getting financial and medical affairs in order, he says, as well as preparing for what lies ahead once convicts are incarcerated.
Most famous client
Rothfeld was referred to Weinstein after representing a client who had also retained an attorney on Weinstein’s criminal defense team. The former Hollywood executive was convicted March 11 in State Supreme Court in Manhattan of criminal sexual act and rape and sentenced to 23 years in prison.
Rothfeld is authorized by the Department of Corrections to advocate for Weinstein and other clients. Preparing clients for sentencing and parole board hearings, as well as managing more mundane issues such as phone accounts and visitations are all part of a day’s work.
There may be obstacles convicts have to overcome to start a new career.
In Weinstein’s case, Rothfeld worked on a sentencing memo with Weinstein’s lawyers in hopes of persuading Justice James Burke to recommend a prison that had medical facilities or a protective-custody unit so Weinstein could be apart from other inmates.
Convicts also need help once their sentence is finished, Rothfeld says. “They have to decide what to do next. There may be obstacles they have to overcome to start a new career.”
Rothfeld gets referrals from criminal defense attorneys, former clients who are out of prison and current clients who tell other inmates about Inside Outside’s services.
Although he won’t disclose his fees, Rothfeld says he charges “more than the bill from your accountant for your annual tax return and less than a criminal defense attorney’s retainer.”
What’s the biggest surprise for most white-collar criminals going to prison for the first time?
“Everyone is an equal in prison,” Rothfeld says. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, what your crime of conviction is, how old you are or how intelligent you are. You’re all equals.”