News and Press Releases

FORMER CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER OF FT. LAUDERDALE LAW FIRM SENTENCED IN CONNECTION WITH MONEY LAUNDERING CONSPIRACY IN OPERATION OF PONZI SCHEME

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 8, 2010

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 that Debra Villegas, 43, formerly the Chief Operating officer of the Ft. Lauderdale law firm of Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler, was sentenced today in Ft. Lauderdale by U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch to 120 months’ incarceration. In addition, the court found the defendant jointly liable for $363 million in restitution, and ordered the forfeiture of certain assets.

On June 11, 2010, Villegas pled guilty to a criminal Information charging that she and co-conspirators participated in an investment scheme, commonly known as a “Ponzi” scheme. The Ponzi scheme 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.

According to the charges and statements made in court during her plea, Villegas participated in the scheme by assisting with the fabrication of names for fictitious plaintiffs and defendants who were purportedly parties in the confidential settlements. In addition, Villegas assisted in the preparation of documents relating to the purported confidential settlements.

Pursuant to the scheme, funds would be sent from investors by interstate wire transfer to financial institutions. Criminally derived proceeds from the scheme, in excess of $10,000, were transferred between and among accounts at financial institutions.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “One by one, the dominos in this billion dollar Ponzi scheme are falling. This is not the last to fall.”

“It is unfortunate that Debra Villegas did not report Rothstein's schemes to law enforcement. Instead, she chose to facilitate and become an accomplice to his scheme,” said Special Agent in Charge John V. Gillies of the FBI’s Miami Division. “She could have been a hero, not a convicted felon. It is a message to all that if you choose greed over integrity, you will have to pay the price.”

“The message we are sending is loud and clear: those who assist others in swindling investors out of their hard-earned money will be aggressively investigated, prosecuted and brought to justice,” said IRS Special Agent in Charge Daniel W. Auer.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lawrence D. LaVecchio, Paul F. Schwartz and Jeffrey N. Kaplan and Forfeiture Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Lehr, Michelle Alvarez, and Evelyn Sheehan.

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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.

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