Alfredo Sararo, a one-time Allegheny County probation officer, will spend nine years in prison for bilking Pittsburgh investors in bogus real estate deals on Florida's Gulf Coast.
U.S. District Judge John Steele, presiding in Fort Myers, Fla., imposed that term Monday after a three-day sentencing hearing that started Thursday.
Sararo, 42, a former Gateway High School tennis star from Monroeville who later worked as a teaching pro in Naples, was convicted last summer of using his close relationship with Robert Horgos, a retired Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge, to entice Mr. Horgos' friends and relatives into investing millions in property deals.
Describing him at trial and sentencing as a con artist, prosecutors said he lied to investors and lenders, falsified documents, persuaded others to falsify documents, embezzled from Mr. Horgos' bank account, tried to obstruct federal agents and cheated on his taxes.
Sararo used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle that included a fancy residence, luxury sports cars and travel.
One of the key elements of the case since the investigation began in 2007 was the exact role Mr. Horgos played in Sararo's schemes.
Although prosecutors portrayed Mr. Horgos as a victim of Sararo, Judge Steele refused to consider him a victim for the purposes of sentencing, a victory for Sararo and his lawyer, Robert Rosenblatt.
"The testimony at trial showed a complex relationship between Sararo and Robert Horgos," the judge ruled. "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."
The judge subtracted Mr. Horgos' losses, estimated at more than $1 million, from the total and came up with a figure of $2.5 million to be paid back to the investors, including Senior Judge Gerard Bigley of Allegheny County common Pleas Court and others who were once close with Mr. Horgos and trusted him.
That lesser amount put Sararo in a lower category of criminal under federal sentencing guidelines and resulted in a term substantially less than the 151/2- to 171/2-year range that the government wanted.
Mr. Rosenblatt was pleased that the judge rejected some of Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Conway's requests for a harsher sentence. But he also maintained that Mr. Horgos should have been punished as well.
Government documents indicate Mr. Horgos offered to plead guilty to tax charges in 2008, when he was still a sitting judge. Prosecutors rejected the plea offer but in 2011 granted Mr. Horgos immunity in exchange for his testimony against Sararo at trial last summer. He was one of 34 government witnesses, several of whom also received immunity.
Mr. Rosenblatt said Mr. Horgos was never a victim and should not have been granted immunity.
"Horgos used his Pittsburgh judicial connections and his connections to the U.S. attorney's office to get a stay-out-of-jail-free card," he said after the sentencing. "He's a politician, he knows people. I think it's disgraceful."
The U.S. attorney's office declined comment.
Mr. Rosenblatt said he will appeal the sentence on several grounds to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Torsten Ove: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1510.