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Facing legal action from IRS, Port Richey mayor resigns

PORT RICHEY — In the council chambers where he has presided over meetings for nearly five years, Mayor Richard Rober made the dramatic announcement Wednesday evening that he is resigning because the IRS plans to pursue legal action against him for under-reporting his income.

Rober, 52, broke the news with his wife, Averill, standing stoically by his side, in front of a gathering of friends and colleagues. He said the resignation would take effect Saturday.

Rober read from a prepared statement in which he admitted to violating tax laws.

"My wife and I under-reported our federal income taxes several years ago, and after an audit with the IRS, they have decided to pursue the matter legally with us," Rober said. "My wife and I assume sole and complete responsibility for our past actions."

Rober's voice trembled as he apologized to the Port Richey community for any "embarrassment this may cause due to what we have done."

"Port Richey residents have afforded me the privilege of being the mayor for almost five years and I have failed not only our residents and staff but also those around us who have engaged me as an elected official," he said.

After his statement, Rober slowly waded through the crowd, accepting hugs and handshakes from friends and colleagues, some of whom wiped tears from their eyes.

In an interview with the Times, Rober declined to discuss details of his IRS case, including how much he may owe, but acknowledged the audit began about two years ago stemming from a 2009 civil lawsuit against him. He said the IRS informed him less than two weeks ago of the legal action it planned to take.

The Robers are former owners of Gator Water and Wastewater Management Inc., a Pasco utility contractor. After Rober took office in 2007, the couple sold their business to a Hudson utility operator known as Florida Utility Group Holdings Inc., with a promise that their company was free of all debts.

But the lawsuit claims a closer review by the new owners revealed an orchestrated operation by Rober during his years as Gator Water vice president that amounted to a six-figure tax fraud.

In the lawsuit, Florida Utility Group claims Rober funneled about half a million dollars of company money into a personal fund he hid from accountants, the utility and the IRS, spending it instead on family finances, the couple's Hummer and repairs for their boat.

Rober said Wednesday the lawsuit is still pending. He also said the city's charter allowed for him to stay in office amid the IRS proceedings to come.

"But that's not me. In the day and age of people deflecting responsibility for their actions, I felt is was right to stand up there and say what I had done and step aside," Rober told the Times.

Elected in 2007, Rober won the mayor's seat unopposed in 2009, and again unopposed in 2011. He said he went for the seat again in 2011 because he didn't know then that the audit would culminate in action against him.

City Manager Tom O'Neill said Port Richey's charter states the vice mayor — Bill Colombo — takes over if the mayor leaves office. He said a special election would need to be held to select someone to serve the two remaining years of Rober's term.

O'Neill said the details of when that special election would be held will be hashed out in the coming days with the city attorney, clerk and Pasco's supervisor of elections.

"We all appreciate Mayor Rober's service to the community," O'Neill said. "I think a lot of him."

Colombo attended Rober's announcement and shook Rober's hand after he made his statement. The soon-to-be acting mayor also thanked Rober for his service.

"I think he did a great job for the city," Colombo said. "It's been a pleasure to serve with him."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

Facing legal action from IRS, Port Richey mayor resigns 03/28/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 8:32pm]
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