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Man gets 30 years for violating probation in fraud case

TAMPA — Jonathan Michael Roda had already been caught once, sentenced to two years in prison for passing himself off as a Grammy-winning producer and bilking residents across Florida of more than $400,000.

This summer, prosecutors said, he was at it again, claiming this time to be Frank Sinatra's grandson, Jules, Gules, Gulian or Julian.

He roamed hotels in Austin, Texas and casinos in Las Vegas, trolling for "high rollers" who'd buy a story that he'd run out of money and needed a loan to pay a hotel or rental bill. He logged into his bank account from a computer to prove he was good for it.

His victims say he ran a convincing game.

He showed them photographs with superstars, and surrounded himself with bodyguards. For a time back in 2005, he hung out with country singer Mindy McCready and said he was her boyfriend.

Few people doubted his credibility — until Roda disappeared and so did their money.

Rae Thompson, 52, formerly of Brandon and one of several Tampa Bay victims prosecutors said Roda targeted, said she ignored her intuition not to trust Roda when he promised her daughter a modeling job at his agency in 2005. Instead, he took Thompson for more than $60,000, all the money she had in the world.

"He's not a serial killer, but he's still a threat to every single person he comes into contact with," she said in a telephone interview. "He's a liar and I don't like him."

On Thursday, Roda, 36, appeared in handcuffs before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Perry for violating the terms of his 10-year probation by leaving Florida without permission. Authorities in Austin arrested him after a man became suspicious that Roda was trying to con him at a hotel and called police.

Perry sentenced Roda to 30 years in state prison for the violation, the maximum sentence he faced after reaching a deal in a 2005 criminal fraud case involving Thompson.

Cathy McKyton, an assistant statewide prosecutor for the Florida Attorney General's Office who handled Roda's case, said the Secret Service was involved in the initial investigation into Roda's scams. McKyton said the possibility of federal charges against Roda remains. He scammed at least 32 people, she said.

"He knows how to talk to people," McKyton said of Roda's convincing schemes. "I don't think I've ever met a more brilliant criminal."

John Trevena, Roda's attorney, said he plans to file a motion asking the judge to reconsider Thursday's sentence.

"We will exhaust every avenue of relief available, given the ridiculously excessive sentence in this case," Trevena said. "Mr. Roda is not accused of physically harming anyone, and to impose a 30-year sentence for restitution of approximately $60,000 is beyond absurd."

Roda's alleged victims think otherwise.

Oklahoma businessman David Miller II, 46, met Roda in 2005.

"That man's created more misery than I know," Miller said in a telephone interview.

He said Roda approached his wife while she shopped at a Louis Vuitton store in Chicago and said he was dating McCready, the country singer. Miller and his wife spent several days with Roda and McCready, who Miller said added to Roda's credibility. During a lunch at Chicago's Omni Hotel, Miller recalled, Roda pointed to a picture of Sinatra on the wall posing with a couple and said the man and woman in the picture were his parents.

"You're just thinking, 'My God! Nobody can be that full of sh--.'" Miller said. "But apparently, he is."

Miller said he realized he'd been scammed after letting Roda use his private plane and paying for McCready's personal security, at Roda's request, during one of her concerts.

McCready told People magazine in a 2005 interview that she didn't know Roda was a con artist.

Those who said they did know created a Web site to warn others about him, www.julessinatra.com. Roda's victims updated it often with his movements and recent photographs, warning people of his aliases and telling them to steer clear.

"My client adamantly denies he ever defrauded anyone and adamantly denies he ever represented himself as a celebrity or relative of the Sinatra family," Trevena said.

Roda was involved in a reality television project that "touched upon the Sinatra family," Trevena said, though he did not have specifics about the show Thursday.

"Some individuals drew the wrong conclusion," Trevena said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story. Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Man gets 30 years for violating probation in fraud case 08/21/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 24, 2008 9:41am]
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