Melissa celebrated her promotion to partner in Rothstein's firm shortly before she died.
Melissa celebrated her promotion to partner in Rothstein's firm shortly before she died.
Courtesy Lynn Haberl

Before Lewis Murder, Rothstein Considered Tony Villegas a "Coward"

For months before attorney Melissa Britt Lewis was killed, she and Debra Villegas worried that Debra's estranged husband would make good on his threats to harm Debra.

Scott Rothstein, their boss at the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler firm and Debra's close friend, tried to calm the women.

"You guys don't need to worry about him, he's a coward," Debra recalled Rothstein saying in a videotaped statement she gave to the Plantation police.

"But me and Melissa knew better," Debra said.

That "coward," Tony Villegas, would hit his young sons if their room wasn't clean, one son

told the police. He'd threatened to kill Debra and feed her to alligators if she ever left him. In 2005, Debra asked Tony to move out, and "he choked me down to the ground," Debra said in her police statement.

Yet when Debra finally kicked Tony out and filed for divorce, Rothstein didn't think she had reason to be afraid.

"I guess he thought that I was unnecessarily concerned, and Melissa was unnecessarily concerned on my behalf," Debra said.

In late 2007, Debra bought a Taser and Melissa bought Mace after Tony threatened to set Debra on fire, a family friend told the police.

In March 2008, Melissa was found strangled to death, her body dumped in a canal. The police charged Tony was first-degree murder, saying he was jealous of Melissa, and blamed her for his divorce.(Tony has pleaded not guilty).

After Melissa died, Rothstein was distraught. "Every time he was with me, he would break down crying," Debra said.

Since Rothstein's massive Ponzi scheme came to light in late 2009, outsiders have wondered if Rothstein may have wanted Melissa dead -- although he's never been charged in connection with the crime.

Still, a Plantation police detective asked Debra to speculate: If Rothstein wanted Melissa killed, would he have hired Tony?

"I don't think any smart person would," Debra replied. "Tony's not a very smart person. For one, he's not very bright. For another, he's crazy."


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