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Former prospective Christmas House buyer Senge sentenced in Alabama

BROOKSVILLE — Matthew Senge, a prospective buyer of the Rogers' Christmas House Village until his criminal past caught up with him, received a sentence Monday in Baldwin County, Ala., that left a prosecutor shaking his head.

In exchange for a guilty plea to a felony charge of theft by deception, Senge, 38, received a suspended 46-month sentence, plus two years of supervised probation from Circuit Judge Langford Floyd.

The sentence surprised Assistant District Attorney Robert Nichols, who had recommended a 20-year prison sentence for Senge.

"It's a big disappointment for us," Nichols said. "This is a guy who has a long history as a con man. We wanted him off the street. The judge didn't see it that way."

Nichols said Senge's lack of a criminal record in Alabama likely helped his case. So did his agreement to pay restitution to the victim he bilked in the 2005 sale of a car that didn't belong to him.

However, Nichols said Senge must meet several conditions to gain his release from Baldwin County Jail, where he has been since late March. In addition to $14,000 in restitution, he also must agree to pay penalties and court costs.

Although he had lived in Hernando County since 2008, Senge entered into the public eye in early January when he began introducing himself around Brooksville as a potential buyer for the financially troubled Christmas House.

Using the alias Matthew Hyde, he and his former girlfriend Karen Hyde, whom he introduced as his wife, told a Times reporter in January they intended to buy and fix up the landmark business.

When the Times revealed Senge's true identity, the Christmas House deal began to sour.

On Jan. 27, he was arrested in Brooksville on an Alabama warrant and held in Hernando County Jail for violating probation in connection with a 2008 battery charge against Hyde. He was extradited to Baldwin County on March 29.

Senge's decision to take a "blind" guilty plea in May left his sentencing up to the discretion of the court, Nichols said. However, even if Senge meets the financial conditions of his release, he will not be able to leave Alabama without a judge's permission.

"Any violation of his probation would most likely mean prison for him," Nichols said.

Hernando County Assistant State Attorney Michael Conageski, who oversaw Senge's probation violation case, said he wasn't certain whether Senge had any remaining time to serve in jail should he ever return to Hernando County.

"He may have settled all of that with his jail time in Alabama," Conageski said.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352)848-1435.

Former prospective Christmas House buyer Senge sentenced in Alabama 07/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 8:25pm]
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