With recent developments surrounding the Law Firm of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler the answer to the question in the title just got 1,000 times more complex. “I read your post about Melissa Lewis. Are you aware of the recent events in Ft. Lauderdale?” the caller asked me. I wrote about Melissa Lewis back on March 11, 2008.
What happened to Melissa Lewis? If you can answer that question you may get a $250,000.00 reward. Steve Lombardi, March 11, 2008.
Back then I wrote:
"So what happened to Melissa Lewis? As a partner in her law firm she was talented and seemingly married to the law and now is the victim of a crime. She lived in Plantation, Florida. Last week after returning home from the grocery store she ended up dead and floating in a canal. Mace was sprayed all over the inside of her garage. The burglary system still in place and her two dogs undisturbed the groceries she purchased and her purse were later found to be missing. The local police suspect robbery."
Then and now the story smelled fishier than the oldest fish file in this law office. I figured she had to have known the person who killed her. Why else would the burglary system and dogs be undisturbed? If you’ve kept up with the story, about the law firm where she worked, you know that the principal lawyer of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler is under investigation for … well, as the WSJ puts it:
“In the complaint, prosecutors claim that Mr. Rothstein operated the Ponzi scheme since 2005 using his law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. Investors were promised fat profits of 20% or more by paying lump sums to people who had won legal settlements that would supposedly pay out larger amounts over a longer period. Mr. Rothstein's attorney didn't respond to two phone messages seeking comment.”
Since March 2008 several key developments have transpired. The most significant being missing money, client money, firm accounts, campaign contributions, donations, plane rides, leaving town without an explanation, asking lawyers in the firm to do research on not-so-friendly extradition countries like Morocco and Israel followed by the filing for dissolution and liquidation, a process somewhat similar to a bankruptcy. There is a story about a lawsuit over a home redecorating bill and doubling down to obtain money in an account. Each new fact seems to enlarge the intrigue along with a total lack of common sense.
“If the firm is dissolved it could meet the same fate as Dreier LLP, a New York law firm that was closed after its founder, Marc Dreier, was arrested for defrauding investors by selling bogus notes. Earlier this year, Mr. Dreier was sentenced to 20 years in prison. It is still unclear, however, whether the Florida firm would have to disband.” WSJ, Nov. 4, 2009
At least one former business associate is distancing himself from any existing business relationship. See, The Fall of Scott Rothstein, By Roger Stone
“While Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler is certainly a highly capable law firm of talented and professional individuals, there was never any evidence that the firm generated the kind of revenue that Rothstein was spending on real-estate, exotic cars, wrist-watches, charitable contributions, political contributions, jewelry, watercraft, designer clothing and multiple luxury homes in Fort Lauderdale and New York City.
Rothstein's spending became so profligate that one year ago I retained Adam Mangino, a former DEA Agent, to investigate and determine the source of Rothstein's new found wealth. While Mangino could not determine the source of Rothstein's wild spending, he did advise me that the money was not Rothstein's.
I asked Rothstein to dissolve RRA Consulting LLC a year ago and his sponsorship of the STONEzone ended July 29th of this year. I am not an investor in any of his schemes and can't believe anyone in their right-mind would entrust him with investor money.”
And so the Florida attorney called and asked, “Why did an attorney from Iowa find the Melissa Lewis disappearance so interesting?” Instinct I guess. Trial lawyers have to have good instincts to survive and I guess you could say instinctively the Melissa Lewis story just didn’t add up for me. So now I’m left to ask, Did Melissa Lewis know too much? And if she did, about what did she know too much?
Will we next hear that client money left in the trust account is missing? I have no way of knowing how money was maintained in the Ft. Lauderdale law firm, but I do know how money is kept by most lawyers. Lawyer trust accounts are like most trust accounts; deposits are someone else’s’ money, meaning keep you mitts off of it. Withdraw and spend that money and it better be to pay for your kid’s life saving operation. In Iowa we have a strict rule about lawyers using trust account funds; if you use it then you automatically lose your license to practice law. The Iowa Supreme Court has a long history of revoking law licenses when lawyers steal from the trust account. Several lawyers have had the not too pleasant experience of being on the receiving end of law license revocation. Revocation is similar to a quick and timely law license funeral. As a lawyer you might as well be dead because without a license you can’t practice law. And those whose licenses are revoked don't come back into the practice of law.
This video clip was provided to me and I believe it shows the main character in this not too flattering mystery story. Listen to him and like me you'll have to ask how does he intend to make it all right?
So what did happen to Melissa Lewis and why did someone believe she had to be killed?
As you can well imagine anyone in a firm with knowledge and a reputation for telling the truth would pose a considerable threat to those who would be on the receiving end of such an investigation surrounding missing client funds. If the amount missing is in the millions then the civil and criminal challenges become insurmountable: Unless of course the main witness disappears. Was Melissa's honesty on obstacle to be dealt with? I think we will continue to follow this story. Even Steve Martini and John Grisham would have a best seller with the likes of the facts in this case. Take a look at this news report.
"In Breaking News, Deirdra Funcheon reports that the law firms accounting employee’s husband has been charged with the murder of Debra Lewis." The motive in that case as alleged by the prosecutor seems ludicrous. “The motive was supposedly revenge for Lewis's closeness with Debra.” The criminal defense team alleges the husband was framed. And to complicate the situation even more one of the prosecutors who first worked on the Melissa Lewis murder case went to work for Rosenfeldt Rothstein Adler. The list of possible suspects goes deep and seems to grow with the amount of money being thrown around. Melissa Lewis had an ex-husband that some say should be a suspect.
Who can say who should be the number one suspect when the victim was surrounded by all this controversy.
“According to the arrest warrant for Tony Villegas, police received "a copy of an e-mail drafted by victim Lewis dated December 20, 2007, wherin (sic) she requested assistance for her friend Debra Villegas (wife of Tony Villegas) stating that 'How hard is it to do a will? My friend Debra is going through a divorce. Her ex-husband is nuts. To be on the safe side, she wants to be sure she designates who gets her children if he hurts her and goes to jail. Seems extreme, but you have NO IDEA what is going on and restraining orders are worthless.'" The affidavit does not specify from what account the e-mail was sent, to whom it was sent, or how detectives obtained it.´ Breaking News, Deirdra Funcheon
Did giving legal advice to her friend get her killed? Or was it she knew too much about the flim-flam being perpetrated on clients? This case has facts that would make CSI writers drool. Rick Cassel and Kate Beckett would love to work this case.
“Police noted that Tony Villegas was a train conductor, and that cell phone pings from the victim's phone in the hours after her death matched up with Tony Villegas's train route. The affidavit also cites witnesses who claim to have seen Villegas washing pepper spray off his hands the evening the murder was committed. Villegas remains in jail awaiting trial; Fleisher believes it will be at least a year before the case is tried. He says Villegas is "holding his own" in there.” Breaking News, Deirdra Funcheon
So some think the train guy killed her. But why? Over mere jealousy? Seems unlikely. But jealousy about what? Friendship? That seems more unlikely. But what about money: or access to a lot of money? Is Tony Villegas just a convenient pawn for the prosecution? Or do they have the motive all wrong? Now that the cat is out of the bag with the law firm are their other people with clearer motives for silencing Melissa Lewis? Even Martini, who I like better than Grisham couldn’t weave these facts into the suspense novel it’s becoming. And the ending of who killed Melissa Lewis still hasn’t been written.
Who are the cast of characters in this unfolding drama?
Melissa Britt Lewis, attorney at Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler who was murdered.
Scott Rothstein, principal attorney at Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler.
Debra Villegas, employee of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, who allegedly handled the books.
Tony Villegas, former husband of Debra Villegas and the man charged with Debra Lewis’ murder.
U.S. District Judge William Zloch is the federal judge assigned to the forfeiture case.
Chuck Zloch, of Mass Mutual insurance is allegedly a friend of Rothstien's and the brother of Judge Zloch.
Attorneys Jeffrey Sonn and John Genovese filed a petition to force the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler firm into involuntary bankruptcy.
This is one complex case. I can't wait to see the forensics. And all I can say is, I rest my case.