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Christmas House's operator prepares to liquidate Brooksville business

BROOKSVILLE — The faint glimmer of hope for the beleaguered Rogers' Christmas House Village has gone dark. And now the operator is preparing to auction off all of the remaining contents of the once-thriving niche business.

A South Florida businessman who had expressed interest in taking over the business has determined that the cost to make the Christmas House financially viable again is too high.

Jimmy Knips, who owns the Christmas Palace stores in Hialeah and Fort Lauderdale, was in Brooksville last week to look over the buildings. He apparently did not like what he saw.

"He was a little scared of the property," said George Rodriguez, who owns the business. "The buildings need a lot of work, and he wasn't willing to put the money into them."

In a related matter, another man who just a few months ago seemed on the verge of owning the landmark Brooksville business will not be going anywhere any time soon.

Matthew Senge pleaded guilty on Thursday in Baldwin County in Alabama to a felony charge of theft by deception in connection with a scheme involving the 2005 sale of a car that didn't belong to him.

Senge, 38, was arrested Jan. 27 in Brooksville on an Alabama warrant for failure to appear at a trial in 2007. He was extradited to the Baldwin County Jail on March 29.

Sherry Murphy, an assistant to Baldwin County District Attorney Judy Newcombe, said that Senge decided to take a "blind" guilty plea, which means that sentencing will be up to Baldwin County judge, who could sentence him up to 20 years in prison.

Senge's sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 15.

Earlier this year, Senge began introducing himself around Hernando County as Matthew Hyde, a potential buyer of the Christmas House. However, the deal began to sour shortly after the Times revealed that Senge has a lengthy criminal record that includes felony convictions in Hernando County.

Others said Senge was a con man who preyed on people's good nature and scammed them out of large sums of money.

Rodriguez blames Senge for many of the ills the business recently experienced, and said Senge owes thousands of dollars to him and several others in the area. Rodriguez said he was forced to close the business last month because Senge put all of the Christmas House electric accounts into his own name in January, but never paid any electric bills.

Rodriguez said he is moving forward his plans to liquidate the business and has contracted with an auction firm in Citrus County to conduct a public sale of merchandise and furnishings sometime in the next few weeks.

The five buildings that make up the village are owned by Weiland Rogers, nephew of Christmas House founder Margaret "Weenie" Ghiotto. Rogers has the property listed for sale for $750,000.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1435.

Christmas House's operator prepares to liquidate Brooksville business 05/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 7, 2010 7:48pm]

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