Tony Villegas found guilty of killing attorney in Rothstein law firm

Man sentenced to life in prison for killing Melissa Lewis, dumping body in canal

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A South Florida man accused of killing an attorney and dumping her body in a canal was found guilty Monday.

Tony Villegas, 52, was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Melissa Lewis, a partner in the now-defunct law firm of convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.

Villegas was arrested in 2008 after Lewis' body was found in a Plantation canal.

Prosecutors argued that Villegas killed Lewis, 39, because he was jealous of her relationship with his ex-wife, Debra Coffey, and believed that Lewis was responsible for ending his marriage.

Lewis and Coffey worked together at the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm in Fort Lauderdale. Coffey served prison time for her role in the Ponzi scheme, but Lewis was never implicated.

It took the jury less than two hours to convict Villegas, after attorneys gave their closing arguments.

During the trial, Villegas' attorney was not allowed to present any evidence that Lewis' death could have been connected to the Rothstein investigation.

"We could win an appeal," defense attorney Bruce Fleischer said. "He could get a new trial, and it would be up to a new jury to determine whether or not there was that Rothstein influence or effect on this case."

Villegas was immediately sentenced to life in prison.

"With a selfish act of jealousy, you not only violated our family, but your own, too," Lynn Haberl, Lewis' aunt, said in court after the verdict was announced. "We will all suffer this loss as long as we live. But we forgive you."

About the Authors:

Peter Burke returned for a second stint of duty at Local 10 News in February 2014.