TAMPA — A tech entrepreneur who in 2011 founded, amid great fanfare, an Ybor City cloud computing company pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to defrauding investors.
His company, Savtira Corp., at one point boasted a half-billion-dollar valuation, but in fact it was worthless and its valuation was based on false revenue projections, prosecutors said.
Timothy Munro Roberts, 46, pleaded guilty to wire fraud, acknowledging that he and business accomplice Terrance F. Taylor made "false promises and representations" to investors about Savtira.
Roberts, who was indicted with Taylor in 2015, faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced. A sentencing date in U.S. District Court has not yet been set. Until then, he is free on bail. Taylor is scheduled for trial in April.
Roberts, 46, who now lives in Missouri, is cooperating with investigators, and as part of his plea agreement, five additional charges alleging a conspiracy to defraud investors with worthless shares of Savtira were dismissed.
Savtira burst onto the Tampa business scene with much buzz, fueled by Roberts remarkable ambitions. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn heralded Savtira's arrival, saying the company's decision to locate in Ybor "validates Tampa's status as a good place for business."
Roberts, CEO of the company, set up shop in an 8,000-square-foot building on Palm Avenue talking about providing better cloud computing solutions for retailers selling their goods online. Visitors to his offices were dazzled by the seemingly cutting-edge computer displayed behind glass.
The would-be tech mogul projected $1 billion in revenues and a thousand jobs by 2015.
As Tampa Bay leaders heralded the company's arrival and ambitions, Roberts and Taylor pitched stock certificates that, according to their indictment, "the conspirators knew were essentially worthless."
Roberts later blamed outside forces and "greedy investors" when the company faltered.
But Roberts' plea agreement and the indictment said the entire business was essentially a charade. In launching Savtira, Roberts failed to tell investors that he had reached a 2008 agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that banned him from selling unregistered securities.
In April 2012, Savtira declared bankruptcy and was later forced into liquidation.
The plea agreement outlined only one $250,000 investment that Roberts collected from someone identified only by their initials, E.W. He admitted some of that money was used for personal purposes.
Before the $250,000 was deposited, the Savtira business account had a negative balance of $5,130.
Contact William R. Levesque at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432. Follow @Times_Levesque.