South Florida

Tony Villegas Found Guilty in Murder of Former Scott Rothstein Partner

A South Florida man accused of killing a former law partner of notorious Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein was found guilty Monday.

Tony Villegas was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Melissa Lewis and was given a mandatory life sentence. It took jurors less than two hours to convict him.

Villegas, 52, was arrested in 2008 and charged with the death of Lewis, the best friend of Villegas’ now ex-wife Debra, who was the COO of the now defunct law firm.

Prosecutors and investigators do not believe that the murder had anything to do with the $1.6 billion scheme, but that Villegas blamed Lewis for the breakup of his marriage.

Villegas' attorney, Bruce Fleisher, said he thinks Rothstein may be connected.

"Mr. Rothstein was fraternal order of police counsel for the Plantation Police Department, he represented them personally and there are other shall we say Rothstein tentacles connected to this case that we were not permitted to go into," he said.

Lewis was found dead in a canal near Plantation after her SUV was found nearby. Investigators said a struggle took place inside her garage, using DNA and pings from her cell phone to allegedly connect Villegas to the crime.

Villegas was declared incompetent to stand trial in 2010 and avoided a trial until he was cleared by the state.

"I was extremely proud of her, the whole family was proud of her, she was going to be the next matriarch in the family and she was just taken away just like that," Lewis' mother, Lisa La Pointe, said after Monday's hearing.

Debra Villegas, who has been released following a federal prison term for her role in the Ponzi scheme, took the stand during the trial. She also spoke after the verdict.

"Instead of thinking about Melissa, thinking about this day, when is it going to come, it has come and gone now so now when we think about Melissa we can think about Melissa," she said.

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