Broward News

Debra Villegas Confesses to Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering in Rothstein Case

Debra Villegas, Scott Rothstein's right-hand woman at his defunct law firm, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering this afternoon at a hastily rescheduled federal court hearing.

Beginning in February 2008, Villegas admitted she fabricated documents for bogus legal settlements, which Rothstein used to lure investors in his massive Ponzi scheme. According to the Sun-Sentinel, Rothstein told Villegas he needed her help "because he was mixed up with the mafia." Villegas' sentencing has been set for August.

Her plea hearing today was rescheduled several times, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and then up again at the last minute, and New Times was not notified of the final switch until after the hearing had taken place.

In the more than ten years that Villegas, 43, worked for Rothstein, she rose from being his paralegal to chief operating officer of the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler firm and gatekeeper of the Ponzi schemer's "inner sanctum." 

Villegas told Plantation police that she considered Rothstein "like a brother" and came to rely on him for both emotional and financial support. When Villegas and her husband, Tony, separated, Rothstein bought Debra a $475,000 house in Weston.

After her best friend, Melissa Lewis, was killed in March 2008, Rothstein bought Villegas a Maserati. The car and the house have now been forfeited to federal prosecutors.

"Scott found the [divorce] attorney. Scott helped us, you know, get situated," Villegas told Plantation police in a 2008 interview. "You know, Scott pays me very well. Scott's very good to me... "

She later added, "I couldn't even say Scott's name at home, 'cause me and Scott are very, very close."

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab