FORMER CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER OF FT. LAUDERDALE LAW FIRM CHARGED WITH MONEY LAUNDERING CONSPIRACY IN OPERATION OF PONZI SCHEME
Jeffrey H. Sloman, 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 filing of a criminal information charging defendant Debra Villegas, 42, of Weston, formerly the Chief Operating Officer of the Ft. Lauderdale law firm of Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler. Villegas is charged with a money laundering conspiracy, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(h). She is scheduled to make her initial appearance in federal court before U.S. Magistrate Robin S. Rosenbaum on Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.
According to the criminal information filed with the court earlier today, Villegas and 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 Rothstein, Rosenfeldt and Adler, PA. More specifically, the Information alleges that Villegas 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. In addition, Villegas allegedly forged the names of the fictitious plaintiffs and defendants on the purported confidential agreements.
The criminal information alleges that investors would send funds by interstate wire transfer 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.
The criminal information also seeks the forfeiture of a sum of money equal to $1,200,000,000, Villegas’ interest in a residence located in Weston, Florida, and a 2009 Maserati.
U.S. Attorney Jeffrey H. Sloman stated, “Investment fraud schemes target people from all walks of life and often result in the loss of their life's savings. The best way to avoid being victimized by fraudsters is to do your homework and to ask hard questions before investing. As today’s case demonstrates, we remain committed to prosecuting investment fraud schemes and all who participate, from top to bottom.”
“We sometimes must make tough choices in our lives, and in this case Debra Villegas made the wrong choice,” said Special Agent in Charge John V. Gillies of the FBI’s Miami Division. “She could have done the right thing and reported Rothstein’s fraud to law enforcement, but instead she assisted him in carrying out the scheme. She chose greed over her integrity and now she will have to pay the price for her actions.”
IRS Special Agent in Charge Daniel W. Auer stated, “We are pleased to lend our financial investigative expertise to unravel even the most complicated schemes. Investors beware: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
If convicted, Villegas faces a maximum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment.
An information is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Mr. Sloman 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, Jeffrey N. Kaplan and Alison Lehr.
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.