White-Collar Crime

Ex-Attorney Rothstein's Right-Hand Woman Gets 10 Years in $1.4B Ponzi Scheme

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Exceeding the prosecution’s recommendation of a seven-year sentence, a federal judge in South Florida today imposed a 10-year prison term on an aide to ex-attorney Scott Rothstein for her role in his approximately $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, in which he sold expected income from fake legal settlements.

Debra Villegas, 43, was unaware of the swindle as she served as Rothstein’s right-hand woman, her lawyer said. But she helped her boss launder money because she thought, based on a lie Rothstein told her, that he was being threatened with harm by an underworld crime figure if he didn’t do so, according to the Miami Herald and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

A paralegal who never graduated from college, she was paid $250,000 a year to serve as chief operating officer at Rothstein’s now-defunct 70-attorney firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. Her bonuses apparently included a Maserati that Rothstein bought for her.

In addition to the prison term, for which she must surrender in June, Villegas also was sentenced by U.S. District Judge William Zloch to pay $363 million in restitution in the Ft. Lauderdale case.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Ex-COO for Rothstein Firm Takes Plea, Explains Why She Helped With $1.4B Scheme”

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