Get to Know the Miami Lawyer Behind High-Profile Venezuelan Prosecutions

Michael B. Nadler has switched sides and is now a criminal defense partner at Stumphauzer Foslid Sloman Ross & Kolaya in Miami.

By Michael A. Mora | December 21, 2020 at 03:45 PM

In 2018, about two years before Michael Nadler stepped down from a more than a two-decade career as a public servant, the Miami attorney secured what was described as the largest judgment to date against a Venezuelan insider. He was working as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

As a result, the former national treasurer of Venezuela, Alejandro Andrade, is serving a 10-year sentence for his role in a foreign currency conspiracy that stole hundreds of millions from his country. Andrade was forced to surrender over $1 billion in cash and assets, including his oceanfront Palm Beach mansion, according to the U.S. government.

Michael Diaz, a Miami defense attorney who has litigated against Nadler on behalf of Venezuelan clients, said these cases were a testament to an attorney who understood the big picture in rooting out corruption within the U.S. that stemmed from a foreign country.

But now Nadler has switched to the opposite side of the courtroom, since the former prosecutor joined a private Miami law firm, Stumphauzer Foslid Sloman Ross & Kolaya.

“You get a certain skill set being a lawyer in general no matter where you go,” Nadler said. “But transferring to private practice and into defense takes a little bit of a learning curve. It takes a little while to get up to speed. How do you talk to clients? I didn’t have clients. I worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

Nadler began his journey into the legal profession at Columbia University, where he briefly worked at Legal Aid in New York City. After attaining his undergraduate degree, Nadler studied at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables.

Already, while Nadler was a student, his mind was imagining a career as a federal prosecutor or a Department of Justice attorney. But after graduating from law school, Nadler moved to Chicago to work at Sidley Austin in the financial and securities litigation group.

While Nadler excelled as a new lawyer, his heart was in public service. When Nadler moved back to South Florida, he took up a job at the Miami-Dade Attorney’s Office. There, Nadler worked as a trial attorney on a wide variety of civil cases and trials in federal and state court. And that was where Nadler met one of his mentors for the next several decades into his career, Wifredo A. Ferrer.

Ferrer, who currently serves as the chairman of Holland & Knight’s global compliance and investigations team and executive partner of the law firm’s Miami office, was then the chief of the federal litigation section at the Miami-Dade County Attorney’s Office.

Ferrer said they were looking for a bright, hardworking lawyer to join the county’s federal litigation team, which deals with lawsuits against county officials.

“I hired him back in 2008 and it was one of the best decisions I did back in that day,” Ferrer said. “I worked with him for a couple of years, I supervised him and worked alongside him and found him to be one of the most hardworking, genuine and humble and talented public servants.”

And when Ferrer was confirmed as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida in 2010, the federal litigator soon after reached out to Nadler to join his team. Nadler’s new position was in the criminal section, which was starkly different from the civil cases that included lots of motions and depositions at the county office.

“The criminal section is a very different way of practicing law and a very different experience,” Ferrer said. “And I knew one of Michael’s best attributes was that he was an incredibly quick learner, but more important than that is his sense of fairness and his judgment.”

At the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Nadler started at the major crimes section, in which he focused on reactive cases instead of cases with considerable implications. These include identity theft and people coming to the airport with narcotics, for instance.

As Nadler continued his work at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he developed his techniques for retrieving information from sources.

“I tend to be generally friendly until it becomes obvious that you’re lying to my face,” Nadler said. “If you come in and try to game up the system, telling me what you think I want to hear or you’re leaving stuff out, you take a hard line.”

And that served him well as he rose up the ranks in the Southern District of Florida, since Nadler investigated corrupt officials in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and then increasingly, focusing on Venezuela starting in 2017.

Under two decades of socialist rule, leaders in Venezuela stole billions of dollars, and much of the money was plunged into the booming luxury real estate market in Miami, making it unaffordable for many residents to afford the cost of living, including exiles from Venezuela and Cuba.

Diaz, the criminal defense attorney, was on opposing sides against Nadler in several criminal investigations, including with the Oberto brothers, then accused of stealing more than $4.5 billion from the socialist government under the rule of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro.

While Diaz found Nadler to be capable and confident, the federal prosecutor lacked the historical perspective of Venezuela. But by the time Nadler left the government, he knew the country like the “back of his hand.”

“When you are a prosecutor and investigating an agency, you can’t simply just rely on the evidence being gathered for you by other government agents,” Diaz said. “You need to go beyond that. And that type of information may impact you in making a charging decision.”

Diaz said to make these charging decisions, Nadler has to have a sense of the Venezuela power structure. Also, following the traditional practice of “prosecuting all the mules and turning them into informants against the capos” was not the best use of government resources if Nadler truly sought to stem illegal activity.

“If the ultimate goal and objective is to stem a certain type of illegal activity, you don’t do that by indicting everybody from the car wash to the guy who is ahead of the criminal organization,” Diaz said. “He had a pretty good idea who the power brokers were, and what cases to bring and what cases not to bring even though he had sufficient evidence to charge certain individuals, he properly exercised his discretion.”

That understanding led to successfully prosecuting over 25 in federal jury trials, including Andrade and, before Nadler left the Southern District of Florida, the arrest of Maduro’s alleged frontman, Alex Saab. Nadler charged the businessman with money laundering in connection with an alleged bribery scheme to construct Venezuelan low-income government housing.

And since then, authorities in Cape Verde have detained Saab, acting on an international arrest warrant when his plane stopped to refuel in the West African state in June. His lawyers are fighting extradition to the U.S.

But moving forward, Diaz said Nadler will have to be careful of any conflicts of interest in cases that he previously litigated for the federal government, now that the former assistant U.S. attorney is working for a private law firm.

Right now, less than three months into his transition, Nadler is still getting a solid footing. The Miami attorney said he is working on a variety of cases involving health care fraud, securities law violations, and money laundering. Nadler said he has been coming into the office because he is a new guy and wants to connect with the law firm’s outstanding group of guys.

And those who used to work with Nadler, such as Diaz and Ferrer, said they have no doubt Nadler will build a reputation as a successful and effective defense attorney.

Partly, Ferrer stated, Nadler will be successful because he is able to drill down on the issues at hand and know how to negotiate to achieve the best result for his client, given that he was on the other side as a prosecutor.

“Because of his demeanor, clients will trust him,” Ferrer said. “He will have a great way of walking them through an experience that is very daunting and scary for a lot of individuals who have never been involved in the criminal justice system.”

Michael B. Nadler

Born: 1972, Miami, Florida

Spouse: Annabelle Nadler

Education: J.D., University of Miami; B.A., Columbia University

Experience: Stumphauzer Foslid Sloman Ross & Kolaya, 2020-present; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, 2011-2020; Miami Dade County Attorney’s Office, 2008-2011; Sidley Austin, 2005-2008