Monday, February 19, 2018
News Roundup

Former Port Richey mayor pleads guilty to federal tax charges

TAMPA — Former Port Richey Mayor Richard Rober and his wife, Averill, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to defraud the federal government by hiding more than $239,000 from the IRS.

In a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas McCoun at the federal courthouse in Tampa, the Robers acknowledged that the facts outlined in a criminal complaint against them are true.

McCoun then accepted their pleas and released the couple on their own recognizance pending a pre-sentencing investigation. He did not set a sentencing date.

Federal authorities say 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. The couple underreported more than $239,000 of income from 2005 to 2007, with unpaid taxes exceeding $55,000.

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.

The IRS launched an investigation, which led to the federal charges that landed the couple in court Thursday.

McCoun ordered the Robers to surrender their passports and said they needed to seek permission from the court in order to leave Florida. The Robers face up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and up to three years of supervised release following any possible prison time.

It remains up to a judge what their sentence will be, but as part of the plea agreement, prosecutors have recommended the Robers be given the minimum sentence on federal sentencing guidelines.

McCoun noted, however, that was only a recommendation and District Judge James Moody, who will preside over sentencing, could still impose any penalty.

An estimation of the lowest sentence the Robers could receive is "on the cusp" of prison time, said their Clearwater attorney, Douglas deVlaming. If the Robers were to receive prison time, he speculated it would be less than a year.

Rober, 52, resigned from the mayor's job in March, saying federal authorities told him criminal charges were imminent. Rober and his wife, 47, declined Thursday to comment on the case, but in the past they have pledged to take responsibility for their actions.

"This is just another step in the process for us," Rober told the Tampa Bay Times before the hearing.

He also said he's pained by not being mayor anymore.

"It's a hole in my heart. I really enjoyed working with the people there. I really did," he said.

McCoun said as part of the plea agreement with prosecutors, the Robers must pay restitution to the IRS, which could include unpaid taxes and interest. DeVlaming said they have already begun that process.

Three years ago, the Robers sued Florida Utility for not making the final payment in its purchase of Gator Water. Florida Utility had withheld the last installment upon discovering the Robers had funneled some money into a personal account, hidden from auditors and the IRS.

Florida Utility filed a countersuit, saying the Robers had provided a "fraudulent, deceptive and deficient" accounting of revenue that set them up for a major tax liability.

The lawsuit still is pending, but the Robers have already signed over to the IRS any funds that may be obtained in the lawsuit, which could reach around $140,000, deVlaming said after the hearing Thursday.

"They are doing everything they can to right the wrong they have done," he said.

Comments
Forecast: Temperatures hover near record highs across Tampa Bay, with little rain

Forecast: Temperatures hover near record highs across Tampa Bay, with little rain

Warm weather will continue this week across Tampa Bay, with temperatures hanging around the low to mid 80s and a low chance of rain for the first half.Early morning fog is sparse across central Florida with some low visibility inland in places such a...
Updated: 1 hour ago
On deck in Rays ballpark quest: Tampa Bay’s business community

On deck in Rays ballpark quest: Tampa Bay’s business community

TAMPA — Columbia Restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart says he’s ready to put his checkbook where his heart is when it comes to supporting a Tampa Bay Rays move to Ybor City.So is the investment fund for the founding family of Ashley Furniture. So, it ap...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, reported missing in Manatee County

Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, reported missing in Manatee County

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is searching for the 12-year-old sister of a murder victim who was reported missing on Sunday night.Deputies say Jalyssa Shannon left her Manatee County home around 9 p.m. Her mother, Michelle Mosley, reported her ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Stoneman Douglas students to protest in Tallahassee; ‘We had this monster living under our roof’; Will Rays Ybor move equal more corporate support?; SOCom prepares for Warrior Games

The Daystarter: Stoneman Douglas students to protest in Tallahassee; ‘We had this monster living under our roof’; Will Rays Ybor move equal more corporate support?; SOCom prepares for Warrior Games

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• For the latest legislative coverage from Tallahassee, keep checking The Buzz, which is updated throughout the day by the reporters of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau.• An...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Planning begins for Warrior Games coming to Tampa in 2019

Planning begins for Warrior Games coming to Tampa in 2019

TAMPA — Army Gen. Raymond A. "Tony" Thomas III, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, had a court-side epiphany last July at the United Center in Chicago while watching the annual Department of Defense Warrior Games.So impressed with what...
Updated: 12 hours ago
PolitiFact Florida: Have Democrats gained 50 seats formerly held by Republicans since Trump was elected?

PolitiFact Florida: Have Democrats gained 50 seats formerly held by Republicans since Trump was elected?

President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager had a prescient message for Republican voters: Get out and vote, or risk losing more seats to Democrats.Corey Lewandowski traveled to Sarasota on Feb. 11, along with former Trump deputy campaign manage...
Published: 02/19/18

Ernest Hooper: Let’s hope post-9/11 generation will stand, engage and act

We’re approaching a new era. Before our eyes, a post-9/11 generation, stunned by mass shootings, roiled by political divides and connected through social media will soon reach the age of majority.They will be able to vote, hold elected officials acco...
Published: 02/19/18
50 years ago, Florida teachers walked off their jobs. Today’s union leaders are inspired

50 years ago, Florida teachers walked off their jobs. Today’s union leaders are inspired

Ulysses Floyd remembers February 1968 all too well.Teachers by the thousands walked off their jobs across Florida. Among their concerns: low pay, poor funding, a lack of planning time, missing materials, and more. "We were at the mercy of the School ...
Published: 02/19/18
Next phase for the Tampa Armature Works: co-working office space

Next phase for the Tampa Armature Works: co-working office space

TAMPA — The mixed-use rebirth of the old Tampa Armature Works warehouse is proceeding in stages. First up: last month’s debut of the new ballroom, followed closely by the opening of more than a dozen vendors in the Heights Public Market food hall.YEA...
Published: 02/19/18
Artistic anarchy reigns in Dali Museum’s Dali/Duchamp exhibition

Artistic anarchy reigns in Dali Museum’s Dali/Duchamp exhibition

ST. PETERSBURGIn Dalí/Duchamp, the world-class exhibition now at St. Petersburg’s Dalí Museum, you’ll meet Salvador Dalí, the publicity hound who claimed his nutty moustache was for receiving signals from outer space. And you’ll meet Marcel Duchamp, ...
Published: 02/19/18