Nearly a decade after Alfredo Sararo began scheming to entice investors in bogus South Florida real estate deals, his federal fraud case lives on.
The convicted former Monroeville tennis star has filed a lengthy appeal before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying the government improperly allowed its key witness, Robert Horgos, a retired Allegheny County Common Pleas judge, to testify under a grant of immunity at Mr. Sararo's trial a year ago.
Prosecutors said Mr. Sararo, a one-time Allegheny County probation officer, used Mr. Horgos to solicit about a dozen of the judge's wealthy Pittsburgh friends to invest in fraudulent property deals on the Gulf Coast at the peak of the housing bubble.
In his appeal, Mr. Sararo and his lawyer argue that he didn't get a fair trial because Mr. Horgos was not a credible witness and the government knew it.
Public defender Craig Crawford accused assistant U.S. attorney Brendan Conway, who in November won an award for his work on the Sararo case and others, of engaging in prosecutorial misconduct by "suborning perjury" in allowing Mr. Horgos to lie.
"In a case [where] Sararo's culpability rested almost entirely on the testimony of Horgos, a man who made repeated material false statements to the jury, it cannot be said that Sararo received a fair trial," Mr. Crawford wrote. "Without Horgos's testimony, the linchpin of the government's case, the government would not have been able to prove any material fraud by Sararo."
The government, Mr. Crawford said, "knew that Horgos would commit perjury before the jury and stood silent" while the judge's testimony "infected the entire trial."
Mr. Conway declined comment Friday.
At trial, he described Mr. Sararo as a con artist who falsified documents, persuaded others to falsify documents, embezzled from Mr. Horgos' bank account, tried to obstruct IRS and FBI agents investigating the case and cheated on his taxes.
He said Mr. Sararo "absolutely hoodwinked" Mr. Horgos into acting as his conduit to rich Pittsburgh investors.
But government documents also indicate that Mr. Horgos had his own problems with trustworthiness.
In a July 2012 letter to Mr. Sararo's lawyer, Mr. Conway said he expected to call Mr. Horgos as an immunized witness and outlined the judge's "credibility issues."
Among them, according to the Sararo appeal, were misrepresentations he made to lenders, such as telling them that his house would be used as collateral and that he owned it free and clear when in fact he was making large mortgage payments.
Mr. Crawford said Mr. Horgos lied repeatedly on the stand in denying that he had given Mr. Sararo power of attorney to buy real estate in Florida; denying that he had a joint account with Mr. Sararo; and denying that he was "skimming" money from investors.
U.S. District Judge John Steele sentenced Mr. Sararo to nine years in prison, well below what the prosecution wanted, and set the fraud loss at $2.5 million.
One of Mr. Horgos's lawyers, Lou Tarasi, said the appeal is a rehash of old issues that have long been resolved.
Mr. Tarasi said Mr. Horgos was Mr. Sararo's largest victim, losing about $1.2 million and being forced to dip into his pension to save his house in Sewickley Hills. Mr. Tarasi said his client also received an undisclosed settlement from a lawsuit related to the case, further proving his innocence.
At home last week, Mr. Horgos said he couldn't comment on a case that is still pending. But he did say that Mr. Sararo took advantage of their friendship and consistently conned him and almost everyone else he came across.
Torsten Ove: email@example.com or 412-263-1510.