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The former chief operating officer at the now-defunct law firm run by admitted Ponzi scheme operator Scott Rothstein was charged Tuesday with money laundering conspiracy for her alleged role in the $1.2 billion scam.

Debra Villegas, 42, was accused of helping Rothstein concoct the fake legal settlements used to lure investors — even forging the names of fictional plaintiffs and defendants on the documents. Villegas, of Weston, became the second person charged in the scheme that brought down the Fort Lauderdale-based firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler — and there could be more to come.

"We remain committed to prosecuting investment fraud schemes and all who participate, from top to bottom," said U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sloman of Miami.

Villegas faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted. Prosecutors are also seeking forfeiture of $1.2 million in cash, a home in Weston valued at about $407,000 that Rothstein transferred to Villegas and $130,000 Maserati Granturismo Coup that was a gift from Rothstein.

An attorney for Villegas did not immediately respond to an e-mail message seeking comment. She is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday; the type of charging document filed by prosecutors typically indicates that the defendant will eventually plead guilty.


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