TAMPA — From the steps of the federal courthouse, former Port Richey Mayor Richard Rober and his wife, Averill, apologized for their crime and said they were ready to face their fate.
"Today, my wife and I are getting ready to pay the price," said Richard Rober, 52.
A federal judge sentenced the couple on Wednesday morning to six months behind bars, followed by six months of house arrest and three years of supervised release on a charge of conspiracy to defraud the federal government by hiding more than $239,000 from the Internal Revenue Service.
U.S. District Judge James Moody also ordered the couple to pay $55,305 in restitution to the IRS. The Robers' attorney, Douglas deVlaming, said after the hearing that his clients must also pay additional penalties and interest, which are still being calculated.
More than 30 supporters crowded into a hallway before the sentencing, giving the couple hugs and words of encouragement. Many welled up with tears as the judge handed down the sentence.
Longtime friend and former Port Richey City Attorney Jim Mathieu testified on the couple's behalf, telling Moody of Richard Rober's public service.
"I can't tell you how much they have done for their community," he said.
Richard Rober also addressed the court, apologizing to the residents of Port Richey, the national citizenry and the government.
"I would like to accept full responsibility for my poor repeated judgment," he said.
Averill Rober, 47, also expressed to the court her anguish over her actions, saying they did not reflect the way in which her parents raised her.
"I am truly ashamed of myself," she said.
Richard Rober resigned from the mayor's job during a March news conference at Port Richey City Hall, saying federal authorities had told him that criminal charges were imminent.
The authorities said the Robers diverted money from the water testing and treatment company they used to own, Gator Water and Wastewater Management Inc., into a separate account at SunTrust Bank. That income went unreported from 2005 to 2007.
The scheme first came to light in a 2009 lawsuit between the Robers and Florida Utility Group, the company that bought Gator Water. Florida Utility accused the Robers of siphoning company money into a personal fund and spending it on family finances, the couple's Hummer and repairs for their boat.
Three years ago, the Robers also sued Florida Utility for not making the final payment in its purchase of Gator Water. The lawsuits are still is pending, but the Robers have already signed over to the IRS any funds they may obtain in the civil case they filed against Florida Utility, deVlaming said.
The Robers pleaded guilty to the federal tax fraud charge in May and faced up to five years in prison, although sentencing guidelines called for less time.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Mosakowski asked for a punishment at the lower end of the guidelines, saying the couple had cooperated from the beginning of the investigation. He said Richard Rober even offered early on to immediately plead guilty if authorities didn't charge his wife.
But the prosecutor also offered his take on the motivation for the crime.
"We're talking about a crime based on greed," he told the judge.
Moody denied a request by deVlaming to allow his clients to serve their time in a halfway house, but he allowed the Robers to leave the courthouse and report to jail at a later date. Because of the short length of the sentence, the Robers will probably serve their time in a county jail somewhere in Florida, deVlaming said.
The U.S. Marshal's Office will inform the couple, perhaps within the next 30 days, where and when to report. DeVlaming said he was disappointed with the sentence but called it "just."
"That's what happens when you don't pay your taxes," deVlaming said.
The couple have continued to work as the case has played out: Richard Rober as a salesman for BETER Mix concrete company, his wife as a personal trainer. But deVlaming said his clients are in "financial ruin" and are likely to lose their home.
"They have always taken responsibility for their actions," deVlaming said. "Money doesn't always mean happiness, and they have learned that."