Retired judge is key witness as Fla. trial begins this week
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A federal investigation dating to 2007 is expected to come to a head this week in a Florida courtroom, where a retired Allegheny County judge is a key witness against a one-time Monroeville tennis star and county probation officer who had been his partner in a series of Gulf Coast land deals.
Alfredo Sararo III, now a tennis pro in Naples, is accused of collecting money for real estate purchases from about a dozen affluent Pittsburghers by soliciting ex-Judge Robert Horgos as his go-between and then using the funds to support what prosecutors call "an extravagant lifestyle."
Despite Mr. Sararo's 2011 indictment and numerous lawsuits over the property deals, the exact roles of both men have never been clear.
Their roles now, however, are sharply defined: Mr. Horgos will testify against his former friend at the trial, which is expected to start Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers.
"They granted him full immunity," said Robert Rosenblatt, Mr. Sararo's lawyer. "He will be one of the main witnesses."
Brendan Conway, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Pittsburgh office who will try the case, said he could not comment on any aspect of the trial.
Mr. Horgos's lawyer, Louis Tarasi, is not involved in the criminal case but said, as he has for five years, that his client "was an innocent victim of Mr. Sararo."
The trial promises to delve into their relationship, which began with a chance encounter at a Pittsburgh nightclub in 1992 and developed to the point where Mr. Sararo made the judge godfather to his son.
The friendship devolved over Florida land speculation at a time when real estate values in that state were skyrocketing.
The government says Mr. Sararo, once Mr. Horgos's partner in a West Virginia pizza shop, used his relationship with the judge to dupe him and numerous Pittsburgh investors who trusted Mr. Horgos.
They include Mr. Horgos's relatives; Common Pleas Senior Judge Gerard Bigley; Pittsburgh lawyers Samuel Kamin and his son, Jonathan; hair transplant doctor Dominic Brandy and his brother Jerry; and former Stowe commissioner James Selelyo and his wife, Stephanie Triko-Selelyo, a Robinson commissioner.
Federal prosecutors say the scheme began in 2004, when the Florida real estate market was exploding, and lasted until August 2007.
Mr. Sararo, they say, diverted money that was supposed to be used to buy properties to himself through a series of misrepresentations, including falsified sales agreements, loan applications, deeds and other documents.
He also lied in a recorded phone call to one victim, according to the charges, and in another instance had a friend call another victim, Judge Bigley, to falsely indicate that the friend wanted to buy the judge's property.
In addition to numerous wire fraud counts pertaining to the phone calls and various faxed documents, Mr. Sararo also is accused of filing false tax returns for 2004 and 2005.
The trial is expected to last two to four weeks.
First Published July 23, 2012 12:00 am