Courts & Crime

Second-in-command in Ponzi scheme charged with money-laundering

Scott Rothstein's right-hand woman at his Fort Lauderdale law firm -- chief operating officer Debra Villegas -- was charged Tuesday with conspiring to launder money from his massive investment racket.

The charges make her the first alleged co-conspirator named in Rothstein's $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, the largest financial fraud in South Florida history.

Prosecutors charged Villegas, 42, with scheming with Rothstein to siphon money from his investors. The funds were used to buy her a house in Weston and to make large political donations in her name, according to sources familiar with the case. Villegas is expected to plead guilty to the money-laundering conspiracy charge, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, and to cooperate with the ongoing federal investigation.

Other former employees of the bankrupt 70-attorney Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm are also expected to face charges, the sources said.

Among those under scrutiny: name partners Stuart Rosenfeldt and Russell Adler; another senior partner, Steven Lippman; chief financial officer Irene Stay; and general counsel David Boden. Attorneys for those ex-RRA employees have denied that their clients did anything wrong.

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