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Con man who tried to buy Rogers' Christmas House sent to prison

BROOKSVILLE — Matthew Senge, who earlier this year conned his way into a deal to buy Rogers' Christmas House Village until his criminal past caught up with him, has been ordered to spend the next 46 months in an Alabama prison for failing to pay restitution for another crime.

Baldwin County, Ala., assistant prosecutor Kyle Henderson said that Senge, 39, who received a suspended 46-month sentence plus two years of supervised probation for his guilty plea in a 2005 theft by deception charge, never paid the $14,000 he agreed to pay.

"He hasn't paid a dime of it," Henderson said. "It became apparent to the judge that he had no means to do so."

Henderson said Senge will most likely serve his sentence in one of the state's medium security corrections facilities.

Senge's notoriety in Hernando County began in January when he began introducing himself around Brooksville as a potential buyer for the financially troubled Christmas House.

Using the alias Matthew Hyde, he and former girlfriend Karen Hyde, whom he introduced as his wife, told a Times reporter in January that they intended to buy and fix up the landmark business.

But when the Times revealed Senge's true identity, which included a lengthy criminal past with several felony charges of check fraud and theft in Florida and Maryland as well as Alabama, the Christmas House deal began to sour.

Senge was arrested Jan. 17 in Brooksville on an Alabama warrant and was held in the Hernando County Jail for violating probation in connection with a 2008 battery charge involving Hyde. He was extradited to Baldwin County on March 29, where he has remained in the county jail facility ever since.

The storied Christmas House, which in its heyday drew thousands of visitors from around the world, continued its financial decline. It closed in late May after 37 years. Business owner George Rodriguez blamed Senge and Hyde for running up thousands of dollars of debt that he could not pay.

Senge's decision to take a guilty plea in May left his sentencing up to the discretion of Judge Langford Floyd. However, the light sentence didn't sit well with Baldwin County Assistant District Attorney Robert Nichols, who had recommended a 20-year prison sentence for Senge.

"It's a big disappointment for us," Nichols told the Times in July. "This is a guy who has a long history as a con man. We wanted him off the street. The judge didn't see it that way."

Former girlfriend Toni Burnett, who claimed that Senge conned her out of $93,000 in personal loans and other assets, wasn't surprised to hear of the lengthy prison sentence.

"I feel absolutely no mercy for him," Burnett said. "He should have been sent to prison years ago. He ruined a lot of people's lives."

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

Con man who tried to buy Rogers' Christmas House sent to prison 12/16/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 16, 2010 8:15pm]
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