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With buyer facing charges, deal for Christmas House likely dead, owner says

BROOKSVILLE — With the arrest of his prospective buyer, Rogers' Christmas House Village owner George Weiland Rogers said Thursday he sees no way the deal will go forward.

But, then, Rogers said he has had his doubts about the buyer, Matthew Senge, all along. Senge just seemed too slick, too sly and "not exactly on the level," Rogers said.

"He had a lot of big ideas that seemed to me to be unrealistic," Rogers said. "I was hopeful, but not confident this was going to get done."

Brooksville police, executing a bench warrant from Baldwin County, Ala., arrested Senge, 38, also known as Matthew Hyde, on Wednesday morning outside the Christmas House.

Senge remained in jail Thursday on a no-bond status for violating probation on a domestic violence arrest last year in Hernando County.

At an appearance before Hernando County Judge Donald Scaglione on Thursday, Senge waived extradition to Alabama to face charges of failing to appear in court on a 2005 felony theft by deception charge. If convicted, Senge could face prison.

Karen Hyde, the woman Senge has introduced around Brooksville as his wife, said Thursday as far as she knew, he still intends to buy the Christmas House

"It won't be (today), that's for certain now," she said of the scheduled day for closing on the purchase. "But Matthew said he's still interested in purchasing it."

That might be a tough proposition as Rogers said he no longer trusts Senge. He was also unhappy to learn this week that contractor Treelawn Builders filed a $3,902.82 lien against Senge for work at the property that he has yet to pay for. Rogers said the work was done without his consent.

Senge's pending deal with Rogers includes only the buildings and the land on S Saxon Avenue. George Rodriguez, who owns the Christmas House business, said Senge also agreed to buy 49 percent of the operation. The status of that deal remains uncertain.

Senge's deal to buy the Christmas House began to emerge late last year when he began introducing himself around town as Matthew Hyde, a former law enforcement officer.

In a Jan. 7 interview with the Times, Senge and Hyde outlined their plans for the landmark business, including adding a tearoom and a New York-style deli. Longer-range plans included building a fine dining restaurant and converting the nearby Scarborough House into an inn.

Two weeks later, however, his story began unraveling when the Times revealed that Senge has an extensive criminal history that includes convictions in Florida and elsewhere for fraud, theft and battery

Rodriguez, who took over the Christmas House in 2008 after former owner Donna Jones filed for bankruptcy, said Senge had told him of his criminal past, but said he was confident he would be a good business partner.

Brooksville Business Alliance president Sally Petrie said Thursday that news of Senge's arrest brought a sense of relief to members of the business community, many of whom grew increasingly suspicious of him in recent weeks. Despite the letdown, she said the organization still supports the Christmas House endeavor.

"A lot of people feel sorry for George (Rodriguez)," Petrie said. "But it's better this way. We couldn't support the Christmas House as long as Senge was involved it."

Longtime Brooksville businessman Pierre Des Jardins said he hopes the public doesn't dwell too long on the landmark's recent turmoil.

"I have to believe there's still hope for it," he said. "When the Christmas House succeeds it's good for the whole community."

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

With buyer facing charges, deal for Christmas House likely dead, owner says 01/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010 9:13pm]
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