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As expected, a plea deal was announced Thursday for Debra Villegas, former chief operating officer for Ponzi scheme orchestrator Scott Rothstein. Neither Villegas nor her attorney, Robert Stickney of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was present at the momentary hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana S. Snow in Fort Lauderdale. Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry LaVecchio informed Snow there is a May 28 calendar call and a June 1 trial date, but “there is a plea deal in the case.” Villegas was charged April 27 by criminal information with one count of money laundering conspiracy, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Stickney said earlier that Villegas was cooperating with authorities since the fraud unfolded last November. Villegas is the first person charged after Rothstein in his $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme that authorities said was operated at his defunct Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm. Villegas, a newly remarried mother of three school-age children, is living in Clewiston and is free on bond. Rothstein, who also is cooperating, pleaded guilty to five counts and is being held in an undisclosed location pending his June 9 sentencing.

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