At Debra Villegas' dramatic sentencing hearing last week, her psychologist argued against sending Scott Rothstein's former right-hand woman to prison for ten years, saying the separation would crush Villegas' two young sons.
"They wouldn't survive," psychologist Lori Butts testified, according to New Times columnist Bob Norman.
No doubt, the children need a mother. But is Villegas really the right woman for the job?
Before she separated from her husband, Villegas and her children told police they lived in fear. Tony Villegas was allegedly violent and abusive, beating his sons and throwing Debra's pregnant daughter across the room, according to Debra's sworn statements to Plantation police. And Debra could not stop the terror from invading their home.
Here's how Caleb Villegas, then 14, described life with his father in a 2008 sworn police interview.
Caleb: If my room wasn't clean or I didn't do a chore... he would throw stuff at us.
Detective: Like, I mean, what he'd throw, a piece of paper at you, or a piece of furniture?
Caleb: No. Metal poles, anything that was around him.
Detective: What kind of metal pole?
Caleb: One of those like, you know, that you set up a shoe rack with...
Detective: OK. Did he ever beat you guys or anything?
Detective: Would it be like spanking on your bottom, or...
Caleb: No, he threw us against walls and stuff.
Detective: Into a wall? Did you guys ever get hurt? Did you ever, you know, get any broken bones or bruises or anything?
Caleb: No, I have a scar, though.
Debra told police that although she was spared the brunt of the physical abuse, Tony stalked her and threatened to kill her if she ever left him. So she stayed, for nearly 16 years.
And when Debra finally kicked Tony out in 2007, she didn't suddenly become a model of maternity. She had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. And she relied heavily on her friend, Lewis, to help run the household.
"I always joke, 'Yep, Melissa's our dad,' " Debra's daughter, Aimee, said in a sworn police interview. "She does our groceries, she takes care of us, she spoils us at Christmastime, she spoils my son. We go to the Keys together. She makes sure we have everything that we need."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
For Debra's kids, the real tragedy occurred in March 2008, when Melissa Lewis was found strangled, her body dumped in a canal. Their father was arrested for killing her. Suddenly, both their caretaker and the man they had long feared were gone.
Debra stayed with her kids but was obviously preoccupied with her role in aiding Scott Rothstein's massive Ponzi scheme.
Now, after spending their entire lives suffering in her home, Debra says her kids can't survive without her?
On the contrary; her children deserve a better life than she ever managed to give them.