Broward News

Debra Villegas' Dual Roles: "Cold-Hearted Bitch" and Terrified Wife

Many people have wondered how Debra Villegas could fill two seemingly conflicting roles. How could she be the confident, right-hand woman to Scott Rothstein as he ran a massive Ponzi scheme out of his law office, yet go home every night to an allegedly abusive husband who beat her kids and now is charged with murdering her best friend?

Psychologists could have a field day analyzing Debra's choices and emotions. But from the extensive, sworn, taped interviews she gave to Plantation police after Melissa Britt Lewis was killed, it seemed that Debra fit the profile of a battered woman. She was terrified to leave Tony Villegas -- she says he threatened to cut her up and "feed [her] to the alligators" if she did. But at work, she found a savior in her boss, Scott Rothstein.

She worked for Rothstein for more than a decade, ascending from her post as a paralegal

with no college degree to chief operating officer of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. She considered Rothstein to be "like a brother," she told police.

He trusted her to handle the firm's money and paid her a six-figure salary. He made her gatekeeper of his "inner sanctum" -- the heavily secured area on the 16th floor of the firm's offices where he allegedly solicited investors in his false legal deals. Later, he bought her a $475,000 house in Weston and a Maserati.

"You know, Scott pays me very well. Scott's very good to me," Debra told police.

Debra knew that she was a drastically different person at work than she was at home, and she acknowledged as much when she spoke to police in 2008.

"I was the strongest person in the world," she said in a sworn interview. "I run Scott's law firm. I'm negotiating, you know, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars a week. I go head-to-head with anybody, and Scott calls me a cold-hearted bitch.

"I'm just like the toughest person in the world until I got into that little world [at home], and I was terrified, whether I stayed or left, that he [Tony] was gonna kill my kids and kill me."