A Brevard County woman who bought property in a questionable North Carolina real estate development has agreed to cooperate with federal investigators as part of a plea agreement.
Yolanda Serrano, 44, pleaded guilty to wire fraud during a court appearance in Orlando on Tuesday, for a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. She admitted stealing more than $12-million from her employer, Southeast Petro Distributors of Melbourne. The money was transferred through internal computer systems at SunTrust.
As part of the bargain, Serrano promised to testify in investigations against others who are not named in the 18-page agreement.
Serrano was arrested by Brevard County sheriff's deputies, but the case was transferred to federal court because some of her transactions involved land in North Carolina and other cities and states.
Serrano used some of the stolen money to buy eight lots in Blue Ridge Mountain Estates, a development about 10 miles north of Cashiers, N.C. The property is being developed by Domenic Rabuffo, a resident of Miami and New York, who went to federal prison on mortgage fraud charges in 1994.
Rabuffo, buying most of his property in a former wife's name, says he is putting in a first-class development with houses that would normally sell for more than $2-million. The houses, all more than 4,000 square feet, are being sandwiched onto 1-acre lots on steep slopes. Neighbors say the project is an eyesore.
All of the lots and the 16 houses under construction are heavily mortgaged, with SunTrust holding about $34-million in outstanding mortgages. SunTrust has foreclosed on two of the lots Serrano owned and has filed suit against 13 other property owners, saying they lied about their income when applying for loans.
Serrano has signed deeds conveying all of the real estate she owned in Florida and North Carolina to her former employer. Her plea agreement requires her to make full restitution of the $12-million.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Lucy Morgan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.