White-Collar Crime

Ex-COO for Rothstein Firm Takes Plea, Explains Why She Helped With $1.4B Scheme


The former chief operating officer for the now-shuttered Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm has pleaded guilty to a federal money-laundering conspiracy charge and said she helped her ex-boss, now-disbarred attorney Scott Rothstein, because she feared potential Mafia repercussions if she didn’t.

Initially, Debra Villegas told U.S. District Judge William Zloch, she agreed to prepare fake legal settlements for Rothstein to use in the $1.4 billion Ponzi scheme he ran out of the Ft. Lauderdale law firm because she thought it was simply money-laundering for a client, reports the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

When it dawned on her that Rothstein was actually using the documents to swindle “investors” in the settlements, she says, she was afraid he boss might be hurt if she didn’t continue, according to the newspaper.

The onetime paralegal, who is now 43, had been with Rothstein for 17 years. She was paid $250,000 a year, plus lavish bonuses, for her work as a COO for the firm.

She could get up to 10 years when she is sentenced in August. Rothstein got a 50-year sentence earlier this week.

Additional coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Ex-Law Firm COO Faces Money-Laundering Conspiracy Case re $1.2B Rothstein Ponzi Scheme”

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