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Sidekick gets 10 years for Ponzi role

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Oct. 8 (UPI) -- The Florida woman who managed Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein's firm received a 10-year prison sentence Friday.

Both a federal prosecutor and Debra Villegas's lawyer described her as Rothstein's loyal lieutenant, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Kaplan called her an active participant in his $1.4 billion fraud while defense lawyer Robert Stickney suggested she was Rothstein's victim.

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Villegas pleaded guilty in June to one count of money laundering.

Rothstein, 48, whose Fort Lauderdale law firm collapsed when his fraud was revealed, agreed to cooperate with investigators and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. He is doing his time in an undisclosed place after providing information on a reputed mob boss.

Stickney said Villegas did not realize, when she forged documents, that they were being used to deceive investors. A psychiatrist who testified for the defense at sentencing said Villegas believed Rothstein was in trouble with the Mafia.

Kaplan said that as the law firm's chief operating officer she was well aware of what was going on: "She kind of ruled that law firm."

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Villegas, 43, began working for Rothstein as a paralegal 17 years ago and remained with him until his Ponzi scheme unraveled.

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