Broward News

Scott Rothstein Saga: Debra Villegas Goes to Prison; Four Enter Guilty Pleas

The gifts of prison sentences keep coming, thanks to Scott Rothstein.

Debra Villegas, the second in command for Rothstein's gigantic Ponzi scheme, surrendered to her new home at a minimum-security federal prison last week to begin her ten-year sentence.

Villegas, now 44, pleaded guilty last year to forging legal documents and laundering money into the now-defunct Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm.

She received a maximum sentence from U.S. District Court Judge William Zloch, despite some wild testimony coming from Villegas' psychologist at her sentencing.

Villegas has been out of custody since her sentencing, largely due to the fact that she's cooperating with the FBI and the IRS for future indictments in the scheme.

Her prison fate became pretty clear to Zloch during the sentencing when Villegas' role in the Ponzi conspiracy was established:

"Was she totally familiar with the operation at the law firm... or was she some lost soul?" Zloch asked the prosecution just before handing down the sentence in October.

"No, she admitted she had knowledge of the scheme," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Kaplan answered. "She kind of ruled the law firm."

In the current round of indictments in the Rothstein case, the four charged Rothstein cohorts have all entered guilty pleas for their various roles in the Ponzi scheme.

Howard Kusnick, 58, of Tamarac, Stephen Caputi, 53, of Lauderhill, William Corte, 38, of Plantation, and Curtis Renie, 38, of Fort Lauderdale all pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud as part of plea agreements.

In the indictment, the feds say Corte and Renie -- both computer nerds in the information technology department of RRA -- copied a TD Bank website and kept it updated with false information to show investors.

Kusnick is a former lawyer of Rothstein's law firm who drafted a fake lawsuit settlement letter, and Caputi is a former nightclub owner who the feds say would pose as a banker or lawsuit plaintiff to show credibility to Rothstein's scheme in front of investors.

The maximum sentence the men face at their scheduled September sentencing hearings is five years in prison.

It will also be decided this week whether Rothstein himself will return to Fort Lauderdale for a deposition in a bankruptcy court.

The feds are trying to block the move because they say Rothstein could be forced to drop some information about the next round of indictments, which is said to include "a dozen to two dozen" people.

They're asking Judge Raymond B. Ray to postpone the date for Rothstein's deposition by 180 days, by which time Rothstein's co-conspirators would be indicted. If the deposition were down now, the feds say, people would get tipped off about what's going down next.

Lawyers for one of the creditors -- Gibraltar Private Bank & Trust Co. -- have entered an objection to the feds' objection, contending that the government is simply trying to buy time, "and it is craftily trying to leave the door open."

"This Court should not consider the request for a stay in a vacuum and should require the Government to explain its full intention at this time," the response says.

The U.S. Attorney's Office's attempt to block Rothstein's deposition is scheduled to be heard on July 1 before U.S. District Judge James Cohn.

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