FORT MYERS — Update: 7:30 p.m.
A federal jury found Fort Myers real estate agent Samir Cabrera guilty of 11 counts of fraud and money laundering on Wednesday night.
Judge John E. Steele will sentence him on April 27.
Cabrera, 32, had little reaction as Steele read each verdict. His wife, former NBC-2 anchor Jessica Stilwell, put her head in her hands as each verdict was returned. She was comforted by her father, Lee County Manager Don Stilwell.
Chief Assistant United States Attorney Douglas Molloy said the verdicts sent a message about shady real estate transactions.
"I think this will change the way we do business in Southwest Florida for at least five years," he said.
Prosecutors alleged Cabrera hid two property flips -- maneuvers in which he bought two pieces of south Fort Myers land at market rate and then resold them to investors, on the same day, for a much higher price. He and his associates pocketed the $2.8 million difference.
Cabrera blamed a real estate attorney and a former chief operating officer, both of whom should have disclosed the flips in the course of their work, he held.
The jury was composed of eight women and four men.
They notified Steele of their verdict around 6:30 p.m., nearly 10 hours after deliberations started Wednesday morning. The deliberations originally began on Tuesday at 3:15 p.m.
Around 3 p.m., jurors told the judge they had reached an impasse. Steele read a charge instructing them to resume deliberations and seek a verdict.
Following the verdict, prosecutors hung back as Cabrera, his wife and family left the courtroom. Emotions ran high outside, and a few raised voices were audible before the group left the building. All declined to talk to reporters, including Cabrera's attorney, John Mills.
Cabrera was found guilty of six fraud counts and five money laundering counts. The former carry a 20-year maximum sentence, each, and the money laundering charges are worth 10 years in prison, each.
Jurors are at a deadlock in the federal fraud trial of Samir Cabrera, they told a judge at 3 p.m.
"We the jury are at an impasse," their note read. "Do you have any help or info to offer?"
Judge John E. Steele brought the 12 jurors--eight women and four men--into the courtroom to read them the "Allen Charge," a series of instructions to work out their disagreements. The charge encourages both sides to reexamine their viewpoints, lest the case end in deadlock and need to be tried again.
"If you fail to reach a verdict, the case will be left open and may have to be tried again," the statement, as read by Steele, went.
One juror nodded her head, another looked at the floor. All returned to the jury room after Steele finished reading.
An alternate juror was removed from Samir Cabrera's federal fraud case after he called a friend who is an IRS agent and mentioned the case, according to government prosecutors.
Deliberations amongst the 12 regular jurors, which began yesterday afternoon, were not interrupted.
Tuesday evening, the juror, a middle-aged white male who lives in Estero, left a voicemail on the phone of an acquaintance who works for the IRS, Chief Assistant United States Attorney Douglas Molloy told the court during a 1:30 hearing.
The juror said he didn't want to talk about the trial, but that he wondered if the acquaintance, who he's known for the past 4 or 5 years, had the same job as "the people I've seen as experts" at the trial, Molloy said.
"I really, truly don't know what you do, but I think that's interesting," he said, according to Molloy.
The agent informed prosecutors of the call.
Cabrera's attorney, John Mills, agreed to remove the juror. He called the incident "very strange."
The juror was the first alternate in the case. Had one of the regular jurors been dismissed, he would have taken his or her place.
With two other alternate jurors, he was sent home on Tuesday when deliberations began and was instructed not to speak to anyone about the case.
Also on Wednesday, jurors asked for another copy of the federal indictment against Cabrera. Their original copy had a blacked-out section where the government dropped one of its mail fraud charges against Cabrera. But the redaction accidentally included part of the next count, jurors told Judge John E. Steele.
They were soon given a new copy.
A hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in the Samir Cabrera fraud trial, Judge John E. Steele told reporters Wednesday morning.
The nature of the hearing is unclear, but Steele said both parties will be on hand.
Cabrera's attorney, John Mills, said the hearing is in reference to a juror. He called it very unusual. He declined to elaborate anymore.
Jurors continued deliberations today, arriving at 9 a.m. They'll soon receive lunch inside their room.
Cabrera, 32, a Fort Myers real estate agent, faces 11 federal counts of fraud and money laundering. If convicted, he could face a maximum 170 years in prison.
Jurors began deliberations Tuesday at 3:15 p.m. Little has been seen of the eight women and four men since they left the courthouse yesterday. They arrived Wednesday morning and went immediately to the jury room.
Samir Cabrera’s fate now rests with the deliberations of twelve strangers.
The eight women and four men of a jury drawn from across Southwest Florida filed out of a federal courtroom in Fort Myers on Tuesday afternoon, charged with determining whether the 32-year-old real estate agent is a con man deserving of prison time or a broken businessman best left to restart his life a free man.
In closing arguments, jurors heard both accounts.
“This is a person who had the gift of gab,” said Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey Michelland as he leaned on the podium. “Don’t let him con you.”
Cabrera’s attorney, John Mills, saw things differently.
“Long story short — negligence versus intent,” he told jurors.
The deliberations mark the end of Cabrera’s seven-day trial for fraud and money laundering charges. Prosecutors allege he scammed investors by hiding two property flips — maneuvers in which Cabrera bought land at market value and then sold it to investors on the same day at a higher price, pocketing the $2.8 million difference.
Cabrera doesn’t deny the flips, but he blames two employees for not disclosing the deals in the course of their work.
If convicted, he faces 20 years for each of the six mail and wire fraud counts and 10 years for each of five money laundering counts.
Judge John E. Steele charged jurors with instructions before releasing them to deliberate at 3:15 p.m. At 5 p.m., Steele granted their request to go home for the night. They’ll return to court at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Cabrera’s guilt must be beyond a reasonable doubt, Steele said, a belief so reliable that they could “act on it without hesitation in the most important of your affairs.”
In a word, the case comes down to intent, both parties said on Tuesday.
That Cabrera personally made more than $600,000 by flipping two pieces of land on Fiddlesticks Boulevard, off Daniels Parkway, isn’t up for discussion. That he spent his gains on Las Vegas nightclubs and high end clothing stores, never developed a single project, eventually lost everything and saw his own home foreclosed by Frank D’Alessandro, the man who taught him everything about real estate is agreed upon by all involved.
The sticking point is whether he meant to keep those flips secret.
“Is this a person who has no business sense?” Michelland asked jurors in his closing argument. “Is this a person who doesn’t know how to make money? Quite the contrary. He knows how to make money. Ask yourself, is (the defense) reasonable?”
Prosecutors described Cabrera as a businessman intent on wringing every dollar out of his projects. The flips made him even more money, they said, and he assumed each maneuver would be hidden by a high octane development market that seemed to command higher land prices with time. When the market stumbled, investors lost money and they started wondering what happened, prosecutors said.
“He knew in his heart that no one would invest if they knew the defendant and his friends were taking out $2.8 million ... in a matter of minutes,” Michelland told jurors.
They built their case on witnesses who testified Cabrera knew each flip had to be disclosed and was in a position to ensure they were.
Cabrera’s case was about “power and greed,” Michelland said.
“Does it make sense that someone like Cabrera — who wants all the power and control — would let an attorney call the shots?”
For Mills, his client was a careless businessman burned by a bad real estate attorney and former chief operating officer, as well as the timing of the market. But he wasn’t a schemer, he said.
“The government has proved a perfect negligence case. ... They proved he was a bad businessman, they proved he didn’t read everything given to him, and they proved he had too much going on and should have focused on what was in front of him,” Mills said.
He noted the flip was disclosed in one of the deal’s documents, but that investors still gave their money. He asked what reason his client would have for not disclosing the deals.
“I think you get a flavor of the fever of the market,” Mills said. “Everyone wanted to get involved, everyone wanted to make money.”
He also attacked the way Cabrera’s investigation was handled, noting that investigators didn’t question the real estate attorney until three weeks before the trial.
“Does that sound like a complete investigation to you?” he asked.
Each of the 11 counts against Cabrera is predicated on the same allegation, that he intentionally devised a “scheme to fraud.” Mills asked jurors to make one decision for all counts.
“I’d submit to you it’s an all-or-nothing verdict form,” he said.
Assistant United States Attorney Robert Barclift agreed during his rebuttal.
“If you find he did have that intent, find him guilty in all the counts,” he said. “If you believe he was simply negligent, find him innocent.”
Also on Tuesday, Cabrera agreed that, if found guilty, he would allow the court to decide the level of forfeitures. Prosecutors are asking for more than $550,000 in money Cabrera made from his deals.