BROOKSVILLE — As far as anyone knows, the last time Matthew Senge saw Hernando County was from the back of a patrol car two years ago on his way to Alabama to face felony charges.
Senge, whose local notoriety was tied to a failed bid to buy the landmark Rogers' Christmas House Village, wound up with a 46-month prison sentence after being convicted of theft by deception for bilking a victim out of cash for a car that didn't belong to him. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, he served a little less than half of his sentence before his release in November.
And now Senge, 40, has resurfaced on the Internet as a Christian blogger who says his past has been redeemed through his belief in God. He has posted brief sermons on YouTube and written a book — "The Word" . . . Today's Church Seems to be Ignoring — a $28.95 hardback on Amazon.com.
"I am FINISHED AND DONE with low living, sight walking, small planning, SMOOTH KNEES, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, cheap giving and dwarfed goals," Senge wrote last spring on his blog, Fishn4Souls, which appeared on a blogging site hosted by the Christian Post newspaper.
But not everyone is buying Senge's story, including people who say they are victims of his scams. Some of them recently posted comments about Senge on another Christian blog.
"When are you (Matthew Senge) going to make restitution to all of us you lied to and stole from?" wrote Gillian Wawrzyniakowski, a former real estate business partner with Senge, on June 2. "I see jail didn't do much to change you."
Toni Burnett, who two years ago showed the Hernando Times a copy of an $87,000 promissory note signed by Senge in 2008, said she has yet to see any of the money she says he owes her. But she has kept a watchful eye for him ever since.
"There are a lot of people still watching for whenever Matt's name pops up," Burnett said by phone earlier this week. "He says he's a Christian, but he's just a man who robs people and then hides behind God. He's a terrible person."
A computer search of public records turned up no current telephone numbers for Senge, and he did not respond to requests for interviews posted on his blog and Facebook page.
A convicted felon long before he arrived in Hernando County in 2007, Senge presented himself in Brooksville as man who was motivated to buy and restore the Christmas House. According to George Rodriguez, who bought the business in 2008, Senge approached him with this idea in late 2009. But it didn't take long for the deal to become a nightmare.
Senge, who introduced himself around town as Matthew Hyde, ran up thousands of dollars of debt before a Hernando Times story in January 2010 revealed his true identity and criminal history. The trail included charges in 2008 for passing worthless checks in Hillsborough County, as well as a recent felony fraud conviction in Hernando County. At the time of his arrest, Senge also was being investigated by the state for working as a process server without a license.
After his release from prison, Senge apparently moved to Delaware.
On his blog, he identifies himself as the founder of Road To Redemption Ministries and says that he has recently released his 126-page book.
The Christmas House closed in April 2010 after 37 years.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]