Sources are telling me that Debra Villegas -- pictured second from left with NFL star Sam Madison at far right just days before her boss, Scott Rothstein, fled to Morocco -- may be nearing a plea deal in the Ponzi case.
Villegas, of course, was the queen of Rothstein's inner sanctum, the well-compensated chief operating officer at Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. She's had contact with the feds, sources say, but it is believed she knows a whole lot more than what she's telling. The strategy, sources confirmed, is to bring Villegas to the government's side with a plea deal, though terms and possible charges being discussed aren't known.
Hence the desire for a deal. Villegas is a low-level target -- let's face it, she was basically one of Rothstein's custodians -- but a potentially very high-level witness. You might be thinking, "Isn't Rothstein himself telling the feds everything they need to know?" On a lot of fronts, sure, but he's not exactly a stellar witness himself, since he is a giant criminal and rampant liar and all. Rothstein is supplying a blueprint, but just about everything he spills is going to have to be corroborated by other witnesses and documents to have any real worth.
Villegas could be the lynchpin to several cases against more high-ranking and juicier targets. Remember, she reigned over Rothstein's secretive "inner sanctum" at RRA. Here's an email Rothstein wrote about Villegas back in March of last year:
For those of you who do not understand Debra's significance to RRA....let me elaborate briefly.....WE WOULD NOT EXIST WITHOUT HER---SHE HAS HELPED ME AND CONTINUES TO HELP ME MORE THAN I COULD EVER EXPLAIN.....OUR OFFICES THAT WE CURRENTLY OCCUPY WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN COMPLETED WITHOUT HER......OUR GROWTH WOULD BE IN REVERSE......WE NEVER WOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO FULFILL THE VISION OF WHAT RRA HAS BECOME WITHOUT HER----WE WOULD NEVER BE ABLE TO
CONTINUE TO PURSUE OUR VISION WITHOUT HER-----SHE IS ONE OF THE MAIN REASONS THAT WE HAVE BEEN ABLE TO CONTINUE TO GROW DESPITE THE TOUGH ECONOMY....DESPITE WHAT YOU MAY THINK---SHE IS FAR MORE OFTEN THAN NOT YOUR GREATEST ADVOCATE
I contacted Villegas' attorney, Paul Lazarus, this morning, and he curtly told me that he couldn't talk because he was on the way to an emergency visit to the dentist. We'll try him again later.
Villegas has already been named in Bill Scherer's lawsuit filed against those he believes are complicit in the Ponzi. I contacted Scherer this morning to get his thoughts on Villegas.
"She was an insider [at RRA], helping out, moving money around, and she had to know that the kind of money being represented as settlements was not anywhere near what the firm was bringing in," Scherer said. "She directed huge amounts of money into the Ponzi. She had to know. And she could everything they are learning from Scott Rothstein. She has every incentive to cooperate."
Villegas certainly had a lot of reason to cooperate with Rothstein, especially after he gave her a $475,000 house in Weston to live in and a $135,000 2009 Maserati Granturismo Coupe to drive. The civil bankruptcy proceeding listed the house and car as assets for seizure, but they were mysteriously left off the forfeiture list drawn up by criminal federal prosecutors. Perhaps they were trying to play nice in their bid to woo her to the table.
-- Is Scott Rothstein out of prison? In a bit of strange and unexplained news, the Federal Inmate Locator website lists Scott Rothstein as having been released from the Federal Detention Center in Miami last week, on February 26. Not sure if he was relocated, given a vacation from the slammer while he cooperates, let out to facilitate an investigation, or what. Will let you know if/when I hear.
-- Here at Pulp headquarters, a TV is usually on to record the major news events of the day, usually tuned to CNN or C-Span. But this morning, oddly, it was on that other paragon of responsible news, The Maury Povich Show. And who comes on the show but our own Leah Lust, AKA Tiffany Shepherd, the former Port St. Lucie High School biology teacher turned porn star.
Shepherd, remember, was fired after the school learned she was doing some racy promotional work for a fishing charter company. Now she is Leah Lust, porn star. The weirdest part of her appearance on the show today was that the studio audience loved her. Povich was beaming as he said, "You and adult films meet up. And how many have you done?"
"I've done about seven," said Lust/Shepherd.
The audience roared with applause.
"Do the parents and the kids back in school in Florida know what you do?"
"Everybody knows what I do," she said. "Everybody."
More raucous applause.