During her sentencing hearing today, Debra Villegas referred to the fraudulent documents being used in Scott Rothstein's $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, saying that Rothstein and "another gentleman" prepared them.
Her job, she said, was to dream up new names to put on the documents as fictitious defendants and plaintiffs in fraudulent structured settlement deals. She also falsely notarized documents in the scheme dating back to September 2007.
And the whole time, she was running Rothstein's heavily secured "inner sanctum" of offices at the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm and largely running that operation as well in terms of day-to-day management. (Her husband, Tony Villegas, was in court today for a competency hearing in his murder case; read here what happened.)
In the hierarchy of the Ponzi scheme, however, she was certainly below the "gentleman" who was actually preparing the fraudulent documents with Rothstein. The man's name was never uttered at the hearing, but inside, see that the evidence points to it being a major player who may very well be the next suspect to face justice.
In his civil lawsuit filed against Scott Rothstein and his alleged co-conspirators, attorney Bill Scherer wrote of Rothstein's "right-hand man," a fellow he alleged drafted fraudulent documents, recruited investors, and had "actual and/or constuctive knowledge that the investments were part of a Ponzi scheme."
That man: Former RRA firm general counsel David Boden.
And that is almost certainly the "gentleman" that Villegas referenced but didn't name. I asked Scherer about it, and he said Villegas was surely speaking of Boden. And his word in this matter carries significant weight, especially since Villegas' attorney, Robert Stickney, specifically mentioned at today's hearing that Villegas was cooperating with Scherer's law firm in the civil suit. (Conrad Scherer attorney Maxine Streeter was in the courtroom representing the firm and at one point was asked to stand up for Judge William Zloch.)
Boden was so deeply involved in the Ponzi that at one point, Rothstein moved him to an office closer to the inner sanctum, sources say, and he lived in one of Rothstein's houses on Castilla, where he claims to have paid rent of $10,000 a month. (When he left the house, Kim Rothstein alleged he took $23,000 worth of the Rothsteins' belongings, including the infamous "leopard table lamp").
After moving out of the Castilla house, Boden moved into a condo at Las Olas River House in downtown Fort Lauderdale that was owned by former teen idol David Cassidy. Bankrutptcy records show that Boden, who didn't even have a license to practice law in Florida, received compensation of $637,874 from RRA in 2008 and $380,404 through October of last year before the Ponzi imploded.
He denied during a tearful deposition with bankruptcy lawyers that he knew Rothstein was engaged in criminal activity.
-- I've already been asked a few times if I agree with Judge Zloch's ten-year sentence. In a word, yes.
Zloch ran a good hearing today, and while some of the testimony from psychologist Lori Butts indicated that Villegas has had a very tough life and that her children would obviously suffer if she went to prison, it doesn't change the fact that she knowingly played what prosecutors termed a "central" role in most infamous crime in Broward history and knew it.
I thought Villegas' attorney, Robert Stickney, laid it on too thick in court today. Essentially the defense tried to say that if the judge put Villegas in prison, it would literally kill her two young sons. That was a garbage tactic.
In another case of questionable form, Stickney brought up the fact that both he and Zloch were naval officers and actually made the comparison of their service in the Navy under their commanders to Villegas' work for Rothstein.
"When we as young officers in the Navy [were asked to do something by a superior officer], we didn't think if it was legal or not... We normally just did it...," Stickney said. "Debra Villegas was a loyal soldier to Mr. Rothstein to her detriment."
That tactic also didn't work, thank goodness.
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That's not to say that anybody who heard the testimony today didn't leave with some sympathy for Villegas, not only for her rough upbringing but for the murder of her best friend by her estranged husband. It's terrible stuff. And her children have undoubtedly been through hell as well.
But again, Villegas knowingly played a key role in the rise of one of the worst criminals in this town's history. And if every felony defendant with a hard-luck story were to get a break from the judge, there wouldn't be many inmates at all.
That's not to say that Villegas will necessarily do the full ten years. There was talk in the courtroom of her returning to ask for a reduction on the sentence in light of her cooperation with the case. That will almost surely happen. And she's not even starting her sentence until June 24, which means that she could conceivably get a sentence reduction prior to entering prison.
Will she get one? That's up to the judge.