Friday, August 17, 2012

Former probation officer found guilty of fraud in Florida - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

By Jonathan D. Silver / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A onetime Monroeville tennis champion and Allegheny County probation officer who participated in questionable Florida land deals involving various Pittsburgh investors, including a retired judge, was found guilty today of federal real estate and tax fraud violations stemming from some of the transactions.

Federal prosecutors from Pittsburgh accused Alfredo Sararo III of Naples, Fla. of using money for his own benefit that was solicited from investors by former Common Pleas Judge Robert Horgos with the intent of being put toward real estate deals.

Those other investors included another county judge, a doctor and Mr. Horgos's relatives.There were 13 people in all who invested some $3.3 million.

In some cases, investigators said, Mr. Sararo did buy real estate, but through a variety of schemes he instead improperly transferred property to himself from Mr. Horgos or concealed the true purchase price.

Mr. Horgos and Mr. Sararo were longtime friends and former business partners, but their relationship soured as a result of the land deals that included the diversion of some of Mr. Horgos's own funds.

Pittsburgh-based IRS and FBI agents along with prosecutors from the local U.S. Attorney's Office investigated the land deals and tax implications before charging Mr. Sararo in Florida. The illegal activity stretched from 2004 to 2007, according to a superseding indictment.

Mr. Horgos of Sewickley Hills, who ran into personal financial problems because of his dealings with Mr. Sararo, testified for the prosecution under a grant of immunity.

According to Florida TV station WZVN, Mr. Horgos testified on direct examination earlier this month for six hours.

The case wrapped up Thursday in Ft. Meyers and went to the jury, which returned the verdict around noon.

Mr. Sararo was found guilty of nine counts. The jury found him not guilty of one count, and a final count was dismissed before the case went to the jury.

U.S. District Court Judge John E. Steele will sentence Mr. Sararo Nov. 19. Mr. Sararo is free on bond.

"Today's verdict is yet another victory for the honest taxpayer," Sybil Smith, acting special agent in charge of the IRS's criminal investigation division in Pittsburgh. "This verdict is a crystal-clear message that law-abiding citizens expect the government to hold accountable those who intentionally violate our nation's laws."

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