UPDATED: The Rothstein Conspiracy Case Taking Shape

UPDATED: The impending Debra Villegas plea deal has for good reason taken top billing in the Rothstein case today. I spoke with Villegas' attorney, Paul Lazarus, this morning, and he told me that he wouldn't confirm or deny the existence of a plea deal.

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Villegas with daughter Aimee
"Without an OK from her, I will not discuss the case," he told me on the phone. "My general philosophy is that if you have a matter where you have the federal government and you have a potential situation where you know you may be prosecuted, which we know exists in this case, the two groups you don't want to offend are the prosecutors and the judge. Until my client is out of the woods, I have no comment."

Lazarus did, however, say that Villegas is dealing with very serious personal issues. For one, her biological mother died last night, he said. Another, presumably, is her medical history, which includes a cancer diagnosis.

"Debra has all sorts of issues that have nothing to do with this case," he said. "Her biological mother passed away last night. She was not close to her -- she was closer to her stepmother -- but it's still a shock to the system, and she has children who are dealing with the loss of her stepmother."

One other issue Lazarus talked about was the $130,000 Maserati that Rothstein purchased for Villegas. "She gave it [to the feds]," Lazarus said. "It was obviously an asset that Rothstein purchased with illegitimate funds."  

We are left with a whole lot more questions, namely, what does the Villegas deal mean when it comes to the larger case? First, it's pretty clear that now there are a lot more folks at the former law firm of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler who just got a whole lot more nervous. It will push former RRA general counsel David Boden to likely do the same: that is, to take a deal with the feds. Word is she has some incriminating information on Rothstein partner

Stuart Rosenfeldt as well. Former RRA chief financial officer Irene Stay is certainly under a great deal of scrutiny. As Virgil remarked in the previous post, Villegas can probably blow open the campaign contribution case (after Rothstein already laid it out) since she herself contributed an improbable tens of thousands to campaigns, including donations to John McCain and Charlie Crist's current U.S. Senate campaign.

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Villegas with Rothstein secretary Ingrid Sahdala.

​In the big picture, should the feds deal with the 42-year-old Villegas, who CBS-4 reported last night will be hit with one Ponzi-related felony that carries a maximum of ten years in prison? She was a willing accomplice, living the high life as Rothstein's assistant in one of the greatest crimes in the history of Florida? Shouldn't she do more than a few years in prison (which is ultimately what I believe will be her sentence)? She took a six-figure salary, drove that Maserati, and lived in the half-million-dollar house in Weston that Rothstein also gave her. She was, as Rothstein wrote in firmwide emails, his number two, and she certainly helped make a whole lot of the fraud he committed possible. 

Villegas started with Rothstein as a paralegal in the early '90s and didn't have even a college degree yet rose to the level of chief operating officer of a supposed powerhouse law firm. Bill Scherer alleges in his lawsuit that Villegas "furnish[ed] false bank account statements and wire transfers to investors for the purpose of inducing investor funding." Sources also say she was trying to help bail out Rothstein's sinking ship to the bitter end.

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Villegas with former Dolphins star O.J. McDuffie.
​Her personal issues notwithstanding, it's not easy to feel much sympathy for Villegas when it comes to her work for Rothstein. When sources told me about the impending plea deal (leading to Monday's post), it was all about nailing bigger fish. But when CBS-4's Jim DeFede reported about the deal last night and added details from unnamed federal sources, here's what he said on the 11 p.m. newscast: "One reason federal authorities were willing to make a deal is they believe Villegas fell victim to Rothstein's charm and influence and that while she was rewarded by Rothstein, she never became rich from the money he stole."   

Note to feds: Let's not bring Rothstein's "charm" into this. It had nothing to do with charm. It was cash, cars, houses, and jewelry. Keep that straight.

That said, it was a no-brainer move for the feds to deal with Villegas. As I wrote in Monday's post, she will corroborate a lot of credibility-shot Rothstein's testimony, and she was basically just a custodian for his crimes.

And it made even more sense for Villegas to deal with the feds. There simply wasn't any plausible deniability in her case, since she not only lorded over Rothstein's "administrative corridor" but also handled the firm's accounts. Another big factor: Her daughter, Aimee, also worked at RRA. You can bet that the deal she's making now with the feds protects her daughter too.   

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-- On a side note, why does Marc Nurik keep pushing his ridiculous story that Scott Rothstein isn't cooperating with the feds except to help them recover assets?

Does he really think he's fooling anybody? All he's doing -- just as he did when he tried to blame Rothstein's transfer out of the Miami federal prison on medical issues -- is proving he's as much a liar as his client.

Stop it, Marc. Just because you're a lawyer acting as an advocate for a client doesn't mean you should bald-face lie to the public. It makes you a joke and a clown. But it's not just the fact that Nurik is steadfastly lying to the world; it's the manner in which he does it. Take this seemingly drug-addled quote he gave to the Sun-Sentinel about Rothstein's transfer out of the Miami FDC: "I am not overjoyed that he is now in St. Lucie County because now I have to take my Bugatti, and I don't want to put the mileage on my Bugatti. If he were cooperating, he would be at the Fountainebleau, or the W. at least. He is not cooperating. He is out of sight and out of mind, right now."

I'll take Lazarus' more practical and reality-based approach any day.

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