Melissa Lewis Had an Affair With Scott Rothstein, Villegas Says
|Courtesy of Lynn Haberl|
|Debra Villegas and Melissa Lewis were best friends.|
The alleged affair, which Villegas revealed in a videotaped statement to Plantation police, raises serious questions about Lewis' murder two years ago.
"Scott was having affairs with any student that came into the office," Villegas' lawyer, Paul Lazarus, told police. "And she [Lewis] started out as a student."
"She had an inappropriate relationship with Scott," a tearful Villegas added.
Villegas was COO at the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Alder firm and Lewis' best friend. She spoke to police in December 2009, months before she pleaded guilty to aiding Rothstein in his scheme. Thanks to the Rothstein scandal, police had additional questions about Lewis' death.
In March 2008, Lewis, 39, was found strangled, her body dumped in a canal. Prosecutors charged Tony Villegas, Debra's ex-husband, with the crime, alleging that Tony was violent and abusive and blamed Lewis for his divorce.
But since Rothstein's financial crimes came to light last fall, many outsiders have questioned whether Lewis was killed because she knew about his scheme. Some wonder if Tony Villegas was framed or hired to kill Lewis.
In her police interview, Villegas flatly denied such speculation.
"Are you aware of any discussion or a conspiracy to frame Tony Villegas for Melissa Lewis' murder?" a detective asked her.
"No," she replied.
"Are you aware of any discussion or conspiracy to hire Tony Villegas for Melissa Lewis' murder?"
Lewis' alleged affair with Rothstein began when Lewis was a student at Nova Southeastern University. In 1999, Rothstein -- who was also her professor -- hired her as a clerk at his then-fledgling firm. Rothstein was married at the time; Lewis was not. Over the years, Lewis worked her way up at the firm as an employment lawyer.
Lewis' family didn't know about the alleged affair, Villegas said. "Nobody knows it; it's something she's ashamed of.
"There were three other people in the firm Scott had relationships with," she added."It was a joke around the office that Scott had these relationships."
Although the affair had ended, Villegas says it's the reason Lewis briefly left RRA at one point and went to work for another firm, Shutts & Bowen. "The other attorneys were always talking about it, and she just felt uncomfortable," Villegas said.
But that's not the explanation Lewis' family gave for her brief exodus from RRA. Her family said Lewis couldn't stand Rothstein.
"She told her mother that she wouldn't work for the -- I don't curse -- but she said she wouldn't work for the SOB anymore, and she meant [Rothstein]," Lewis' aunt, Lynn Haberl, told New Times columnist Bob Norman.
Yet Lewis quickly returned to RRA, partly because her friend Debra was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, other friends say.
Debra Villegas told police that Lewis returned because she "got over" the embarrassment of her affair. She also wasn't happy at Shutts & Bowen, where she was a new employee and tightly supervised. "She didn't fit in there," Villegas said.
When Lewis came back to RRA, she was supervised by Stuart Rosenfeldt instead of Rothstein. Shortly before she was killed, she became a partner at the firm.
Another former Nova Southeastern law student and RRA law clerk, Julie Timmerman, committed suicide in January of this year. Rothstein put Timmerman through law school. Police have vehemently denied that her death had anything to do with Rothstein.