FORT MYERS — Saying “the jury got it right,” a federal judge on Monday sentenced a North Naples real estate flipper convicted of tax and wire fraud to nine years in federal prison for a $2.5 million scheme involving at least 15 Pennsylvania and Florida victims.
“It’s clear to me that you were involved in fraud,” U.S. District Judge John Steele of Fort Myers told Alfredo J. Sararo III, 42, a tennis pro and father of four, rejecting arguments that the prosecutor abused his discretion by not charging a Pennsylvania judge who lined up the investors.
Steele said it didn’t lessen Sararo’s culpability, but agreed the victims’ losses may have been exacerbated by the real estate market’s collapse. In a 20-page order he wrote Monday, the last day of a three-day sentencing hearing, he reduced the $3.3 million fraud to $2.5 million, placing victims’ losses at $2.49 million based on trial evidence.
Sararo stole money from investors and lied to them, initially claiming he’d made nothing on the deals, Steele wrote, noting, “The evidence as to whether (former Pennsylvania judge) Robert Horgos was always a victim, always a co-schemer, or some combination, was more ambiguous.”
His order reduced the 17½- to 21¾-year maximum recommended in a presentence report to 14 to 17½ years after considering arguments by the prosecution, which sought 27¼ years, and the defense, which asked for house arrest and probation.
The judge noted Sararo had no prior criminal convictions.
He sentenced Sararo to nine years for each of five counts of wire fraud involving phone calls and faxes related to deals in Naples, Port Charlotte and Cape Coral, and three years each for four tax fraud counts for not reporting the income to the IRS. The terms will be served simultaneously, followed by three years of probation.
The sentence came five months after a jury found Sararo guilty of all but one wire fraud count involving Horgos.
Sararo, a former Pennsylvania probation officer, set up real estate deals with Horgos’ friends and relatives, including a judge, Pittsburgh businessmen and a Florida restaurateur.
Testimony showed Sararo pocketed millions to support his lavish lifestyle, which included traveling, a $1.4 million home in The Dunes, a Ferrari, Jaguar and Maserati. Horgos, who used investors’ money to pay bills, retired during an FBI fraud investigation, but was among the unindicted co-conspirators granted immunity from prosecution.
The victims, who didn’t attend sentencing, couldn’t be reached for comment.
He didn’t intend to hurt any people. He’s one of the most generous people you could ever imagine.
Julie Sararo, wife
Pittsburgh attorney Louis Tarasi Jr., who represented Horgos in a lawsuit against Sararo and others, called Horgos the largest victim, noting he lost $1.2 million and proved he was a victim by settling his lawsuit for a confidential amount. The IRS also considered Horgos a victim, Tarasi said, allowing him to claim his investment-theft losses.
“The judge was the ultimate victim,” Tarasi said, noting he lost his life savings, had to step down from the bench and dip into his pension. “He lost more than anyone.”
Five spoke on Sararo’s behalf, including his wife, father-in-law, a developer and a former Bronx district attorney who questioned why Horgos, the FBI’s initial target, got immunity.
Julie Sararo, the mother of three toddlers with Sararo, cried and said everyone loves her husband of five years.
“He didn’t intend to hurt any people,” she said. “He’s one of the most generous people you could ever imagine.”
Sararo took to the podium, apologizing to everyone.
“I didn’t intend for any of them to lose money,” Sararo said, blaming the real estate market and saying he felt a lot of remorse. “ … I felt horrible they were deceived. ... It’s my own fault I put myself in this situation and trusted people. If you could find any leniency in this, I’d appreciate it.”
Defense attorney Robert Rosenblatt argued Sararo cooperated, despite prosecution claims, and denied he forged paperwork to cover his tracks.
“We hope you would take the conduct of Mr. Horgos into account and compare it to the conduct of Mr. Sararo,” Rosenblatt said, contending there are issues for an appeal.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Conway of Pittsburgh argued Sararo didn’t cooperate, provided false documents to thwart the probe and lied to FBI and IRS agents. He said Sararo showed no remorse, was cited in seven other fraud reports, received $5 million in fraudulent loans with his brother, and also scammed Naples attorney Domenic Lucarelli and a Texas lawyer in land deals.
“You saw evidence of the lifestyle he lived and continued to live,” Conway said. “The only thing he’s remorseful about is he got caught and he got convicted.”
Sararo and his wife cried and hugged before a U.S. marshal handcuffed him and led him out. Friends, family, attorneys and a juror who watched declined to comment.
A federal judge Monday sentenced a North Naples real estate flipper convicted of tax and wire fraud to nine years in federal prison for a $3.3 million fraud on more than a dozen people from Pennsylvania and Southwest Florida.
"It's clear to me that you were involved in fraud," U.S. District Judge John Steele told Alfredo J. Sararo, 42, a local tennis pro and father of four, rejecting arguments that the prosecutor abused his discretion by not charging a now-retired Pennsylvania judge who lost money and lined up 13 other investors.
The judge did agree, however, that some of the losses incurred by victims had been exacerbated by the collapse of the Florida real estate market.
Moments before sentencing, Steele issued an order detailing enhancements he'd consider in fashioning a sentence that considered the fraud, abuse of trust and other factors used to increase the term, in addition to Sararo's remorse and likelihood he'd re-offend, mitigating factors.
That reduced the potential maximum suggested in a presentence report of 17½-21¾ years to 14 to 17½; the prosecution had sought 21¾-27¼ years, while the defense asked for house arrest and probation.
But Steele agreed that wasn't appropriate and sentenced him to nine years on each of five counts of wire fraud involving phone calls and faxes detailing land deals in Naples, Port Charlotte and Cape Coral, and three years for four counts of tax fraud for not reporting that income. The terms will be served concurrently, and after release, he will serve three years of supervised probation.
Five people spoke on Sararo's behalf, including his wife, a Collier County jail officer and the developer of The Dunes in North Naples. Sararo cried and asked for leniency, while his defense attorney, Robert Rosenblatt of Miami, blamed the real estate market and a Pennsylvania judge for Sararo's troubles.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Conway of Pittsburgh called Sararo a con man who knew how to pick his victims. He noted he'd had seven other incidents involving law enforcement from 2004 to 2011 and defrauded a Naples lawyer, a Texas lawyer and others. He also argued that he tried to thwart the investigation with fake documents.
"The only thing he's remorseful about is he got caught and he got convicted," Conway said.