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Sentence postponed in fraud case

Lisa Carver had put a bottle of chardonnay on ice.

She was expecting Friday to hear a sentence given to Robert Best, the man who stole her heart and, prosecutors say, conned the blind woman out of $1.1-million.

Carver, 34, never popped the cork. Instead of sentencing Best to 12 to 17 years in a federal penitentiary for fraud, a U.S. district judge postponed until April a sentence for the 13-time convicted felon.

"He won again," said Carver, who traveled from her home in Roxboro, N.C., to Tampa for the sentencing. "He won again."

The delay was granted so Best's attorney could have more time to study the case. Also on Friday, Best withdrew guilty pleas he had entered.

The delay means Carver must wait to reclaim some of the $1.1-million she gave Best after hearing his promises of love. With no income, Carver, who needs the help of a friend or guide to get around, is living off her savings, she said. She has less than $100,000 remaining from a $1.2-million nest egg she won from an insurance judgment in 1992, she said.

Five years ago, a jury awarded Carver $2.4-million. She had sued a North Carolina clinic for failing to diagnose the condition that caused her to go blind in 1988.

Carver became pen pals with Best while he was serving a three-year sentence in a Florida prison for burglary and writing bad checks. He sent her letters, one of which said, "I have a feeling God has placed you in my path for a reason . . . What could be the purpose of our meeting? Maybe I needed a friend who doesn't care about money, jets and Rolls-Royces."

After the letters and phone calls, Carver fell in love. "I was amazed I found someone _ a man _ who looked at life like I did," she said.

She loaned Carver $1.1-million because he promised to pay her back, she said. Instead, prosecutors say, he bought two houses in Hillsborough County, two power boats, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, nine cars, including a 1975 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, a BMW, and a new Mercedes-Benz, and more.

Now, with her money gone, Carver said she does not know how she will care for herself or her 11-year-old son. She plans to stay in Tampa until Best's hearing next month.

On Friday, Best's attorney Stephen Crawford asked for more time to study the case. Best's public defender withdrew from the case in February for undisclosed reasons.

Best's new attorney must studythe accusation by prosecutors that Best, operating from his cell at the Morgan Street Jail in Tampa, tried to sell off the Riverview house he had bought with Carver's money.

In October, Best pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud and in 25 other counts, he entered a plea that of guilt only because he recognized he would have lost in trial. He said Friday that he now wants a non-jury trial.

The judge will rule on the request.

On Friday, Carver said she recognized Best's old tactics.

"I heard charm in his voice," Carver said. "I heard confidence. . . . I was disgusted."

_ Information from Times files and staff writer Larry Dougherty was used in this story.

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