In April 1993, Debra Taylor, the tall, boisterous woman who would become Scott Rothstein's treasured secretary, gave birth to a son. Already caring for two daughters from a previous relationship, Debra, then 25, wasn't in a position to handle this baby alone.
When the baby was a few months old, Debra filed a paternity suit in Broward County Court against the child's father, Tony Villegas.
Villegas was a boyfriend about whom Debra had some doubts, according to a sworn statement she gave the Plantation police in March 2008.
Once, when her daughter was about 3, they were riding in the car with Tony. Her daughter was babbling away in the
back seat, as toddlers tend to do, and "it drove [Tony] crazy," Debra told the police.
So he pulled the car over to the side of the road, found some duct tape, and taped the toddler's mouth shut, Debra said. During this episode, Tony Villegas "didn't even blink," Debra recalled.
"And I'm just sitting in the car thinking, 'You can't do that to her,'" Debra said. "But he didn't see anything wrong with that."
Debra told the police that despite her reservations about Tony, she didn't leave him. She'd already left her job and family in Texas and had come to South Florida to start over. "And I, I felt like I didn't have anywhere to go. I had no family here, no friends."
So in August 1994, Debra and Tony got married. The paternity suit was dismissed five days later. And thus began a rocky, 16-year marriage.
Debra and her children would later tell police that Tony was frightening and abusive, hitting his sons and once throwing Debra's pregnant daughter across a room. In March 2008, Tony was arrested and accused of murdering Debra's best friend, Melissa Britt Lewis. He's now in jail awaiting trial. His lawyer, Al Milian, has not responded to requests for comment.