Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Bobka Receives 15-Year Sentence

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Bobka Receives 15-Year Sentence

Article excerpt

FLIPPING FRAUD: Judge goes easier on those who pleaded guilty


Rich Bobka, the chief lieutenant in the flipping fraud conspiracy centered on Southwest Florida, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, the longest punishment to date but still 12 years fewer than the maximum.

With credit for 18 months he already has served, the former Sarasota Realtor's sentence actually translates to 13 years and six months.

Like three other members of the conspiracy who learned their fate on Monday, Bobka had pleaded guilty. Unlike them, his plea was entered five days into his trial.

But under federal sentencing guidelines, Bobka had accepted responsibility for his role in the case.

The scheme masterminded by R. Craig Adams, another former Sarasota Realtor, involved artificially inflating the value of more than 150 properties and lying to lenders. That allowed the conspirators to get far more in loans than their deals would have merited, a total of $200 million in mortgages through the course of the decade-long effort.

There were dozens of participants, 19 of whom were eventually indicted by federal prosecutors.

"I feel I owe your honor a humble and sincere apology," Bobka told U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich on Monday. "I don't think words can describe how sorry I am. In the beginning, I didn't really see banks as victims, but I see things differently now."

Two lesser players -- Thomas Brustad and Jeffrey Berghorn -- were each sentenced to a year and a day on Monday, while Rich Bobka's father, George, was allowed to walk away without having to spend any time behind bars.

That leaves eight more members of the conspiracy to be sentenced, including Adams, and the title agent, Lisa Rotolo, who closed more than 40 of his fraudulent real estate deals. Like the four who were sentenced Monday, the others have all pleaded guilty.

On Friday, three of the defendants who had chosen to go to trial were sentenced, including George Cavallo -- Rich Bobka's brother -- who received 10 years in prison. Cavallo's wife, Paula Hornberger, was sentenced to a year and a day, while former fraud investigator Joel Streinz was sentenced to five years.

Rich Bobka was the last person in the case to plead guilty, only days after the beginning of his February trial.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Tuite argued that was good enough to merit a significant reduction in his sentence.

Not only did Bobka's guilty plea on 33 of 44 counts save the government time and money, it also proved that Bobka knew what he was doing was wrong, Tuite said.

"He knew better," the prosecutor said. "If he didn't know better, then the only conclusion would be that he's morally corrupt."

Wearing navy blue jailhouse pajamas and chained at the ankles, the younger Bobka was facing 21 to 27 years in prison when he shuffled across the courtroom and took a seat in front of Judge Kovachevich. …

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