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Former Monroeville man gets 9 years in prison for bad land deals

| Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, 1:00 p.m.

A former Monroeville man will spend nine years in federal prison for bilking investors out of $2.5 million in bogus real estate deals, a Florida judge ruled on Monday.

U.S. District Judge John Steele heard testimony on Thursday and Friday before sentencing Alfredo Sararo III of Naples, Fla. A federal jury in Fort Myers, Fla., in August convicted Sararo of nine charges of fraud and wire fraud.

Prosecutors said Sararo, a former Allegheny County probation officer and tennis instructor, under-reported his income in tax returns, lied to investors and lenders, falsified documents and persuaded others to lie and falsify documents. They sought more than 27 years in prison for Sararo.

The government says Sararo took retired Common Pleas Judge Robert P. Horgos of Sewickley Hills — a former friend — for more than $1 million to invest in fraudulent land deals. In all, Sararo bilked more than $4 million from at least a dozen people, many of whom Horgos persuaded to invest with Sararo, according to prosecution filings. Horgos testified under immunity against Sararo in the two-week trial.

Steele disagreed with the government's assessment of Horgos' role, saying Horgos was not a victim, and he did not include any restitution for Horgos. The $2.5 million he ordered Sararo to repay will go to other investors, including Senior Common Pleas Judge Gerard Bigley.

“The testimony at trial showed a complex relationship between Sararo and Robert Horgos,” Steele wrote. “The evidence clearly supports the jury's verdicts that Sararo was guilty of the fraud and tax counts. The evidence as to whether Robert Horgos was always a victim, always a co-schemer, or some combination, was more ambiguous.”

Sararo's attorney Robert Rosenblatt pointed to a 2008 email from Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Conway to investigators indicating Horgos was willing to take a plea deal.

“I am sending a memo to (former U.S. Attorney) Mary Beth (Buchanan) encouraging her to reject Horgos' proposal to plead to the tax count without any fraud counts. ... I do not anticipate us giving him a deal that he is going to accept and therefore we should move forward,” Conway's email states.

Horgos issued a statement through attorney Tina Miller denying that he offered to plead guilty.

“At no time did I offer or agree to plead guilty to a crime. I fully cooperated with the government from the very beginning of the investigation. Like many others, I was victimized by Mr. Sararo. Through civil litigation, I have been successful in addressing his actions,” Miller wrote on behalf of Horgos.

Horgos' civil attorney Lou Tarasi said Steele's finding that Horgos didn't deserve restitution was wrong.

“(Sararo) ought to go away for a long time. He cheated everybody,” Tarasi said. “The judge lost $1.2 million because he trusted this individual. He's the biggest victim of them all. He's ruined.”

Rosenblatt said Horgos used his influence to avoid punishment.

“The only con man was Horgos. Alfredo didn't call any of the Pittsburgh investors. What it shows is that if you're a state judge in Pittsburgh and you have connections, you walk away free.”

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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