FORMER CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER OF ROTHSTEIN LAW FIRM PLEADS GUILTY TO MONEY LAUNDERING CONSPIRACY IN OPERATION OF BILLION DOLLAR PONZI SCHEME
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, and Daniel W. Auer, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CID), announced the entry of a guilty plea by defendant Debra Villegas, 42, of Weston. Villegas was formerly the Chief Operating Officer of the Ft. Lauderdale law firm of Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler (RRA). Villegas pled guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(h).
Sentencing has been scheduled for August 20, 2010 before U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch in Ft. Lauderdale. At sentencing, the defendant faces a possible statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, to be followed by a term of up to three years of supervised release.
According to the proffer statement filed with the court during the plea hearing, Villegas and other co-conspirators participated in an investment scheme, commonly known as a “Ponzi” scheme, that involved the sale of purported confidential settlement agreements in sexual harassment and/or whistle blower cases that were purportedly handled by attorneys at RRA. During the plea, Villegas admitted that she participated in the Ponzi scheme by assisting in the fabrication of names of fictitious plaintiffs and defendants who were purportedly parties in the confidential settlements. Villegas also admitted that she forged the names of the fictitious plaintiffs and defendants on the purported confidential agreements.
According to documents filed with the court, investors would wire funds to financial institutions, as instructed by the conspirators. Thereafter, to execute the scheme, these funds would be transferred, in amounts greater than $10,000, between accounts at various financial institutions, including TD Bank and Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust, for the personal use and benefit of the conspirators.
In addition to pleading guilty to money laundering conspiracy, Villegas agreed in the plea agreement to forfeit a sum of money equal to $1,200,000,000, which represents Villegas’ interest in a residence located in Weston, Florida, and a 2009 Maserati.
U.S. Attorney Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI and the IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lawrence D. LaVecchio, Paul F. Schwartz and Jeffrey N. Kaplan.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.