When Debra Villegas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering last week, one detail in her testimony stood out.
Villegas, the former chief operating officer at Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, told Judge William Zloch that she originally thought the legal settlement documents she prepared for Scott Rothstein were legitimate. But in February 2008, Rothstein told her they were fake. In fact, the documents were part of the massive Ponzi scheme that sent Rothstein to prison for 50 years.
Rothstein's 2008 revelation came one month before Melissa Britt Lewis, an RRA attorney
and Villegas' best friend, was murdered.
Conspiracy theorists no doubt will pounce on this coincidence, using it to suggest that Rothstein or Villegas targeted Lewis because she discovered their scheme. That theory is tough to buy, considering the stack of evidence against Tony Villegas, Debra's ex-husband, who has been accused of murdering Lewis after years of threatening Debra and violently abusing her kids.
There's no evidence in the court records to suggest that Lewis knew about the Ponzi scheme.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to wonder about Debra's truthiness. Consider:
-- In last week's written plea agreement, prosecutors from the U.S Attorney's Office wrote that Debra Villegas' involvement in the Ponzi scheme began "in or about late 2007." Did she really not know what she was doing until February 2008?
-- When Plantation police began investigating Lewis' murder in March 2008, they relied heavily on Debra for information. She provided them with video records from RRA's headquarters, purportedly showing everyone who came and left the office on the day of Lewis' death. She also gave them a copy of Lewis' computerized day planner. Is this the kind of information a woman who is laundering money should be trusted with?
-- During a March 2008 sworn interview with the police, Debra made a statement that suggests she may have had a lot to hide from her best friend.
"There's always secrets that people don't know about, " she said. "I guess I would be 99.9 percent sure that there were no secrets between me and her."