Florida developer Domenic Rabuffo was sentenced Tuesday to more than 27 years in federal prison for a North Carolina mortgage fraud scheme that bilked four major banks out of more than $50 million in loans made to dozens of Floridians who posed as straw buyers.
The Miami man, now 78, is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
After being jailed without bail following his indictment in January, Rabuffo has been hospitalized several times and had carotid surgery to restore the flow of blood to his brain. His lawyers say he also has diabetes and a degenerative spinal disc problem that has him in a wheelchair.
U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore noted that the mortgage fraud scheme contributed to the country's economic decline and indicated his sentence was partially designed to deter others.
Rabuffo is appealing the jury verdict that found him and several others guilty of conspiracy to commit mortgage fraud and multiple counts of bank fraud.
At sentencing Tuesday in Miami, Rabuffo's attorney said a 60-month sentence would be appropriate.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dwayne Williams asked for the 327-month sentence, slightly more than 27 years and at the top of the sentencing guidelines for a defendant with his record.
Rabuffo was convicted in a similar fraud case in New York almost 30 years ago.
Prosecutors pushed to keep him behind bars even before his conviction, saying that he would go right back to the business of fraud as long as he had a telephone, a fax machine and someone to help. After leaving North Carolina, Rabuffo created an ore trading company in Florida and was making frequent trips to Mexico, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.
Rabuffo declined to speak at sentencing but has denied all wrongdoing in documents filed with the court. He blamed several of his associates, who cooperated with prosecutors for the mortgage fraud scheme that involved 86 "straw buyers'' recruited to lend their names to deeds for lots in Hampton Springs, a remote mountain development near Cashiers, N.C. Several of those straw buyers testified at his trial in June and identified Rabuffo as the organizer of the deal.
Rabuffo was accused of offering $25,000 to the straw buyers, who would take title to lots and allow their names to be used to apply for purchase and construction mortgages that often totaled $1.5 million. In many instances, mortgage applications were simultaneously processed at two banks, allowing lot owners to acquire two mortgages from different banks that remained unaware of each other's loans.
Prices recorded on deeds for the property indicated a value of $650,000 an acre in an area where lots have rarely sold for more than $15,000 an acre. Most of the lots were claimed by the banks in foreclosure and resold or given away. Prosecutors say the land now has little value compared with the $72 million in loans made by the banks. Not all of the money was distributed, because officials at SunTrust discovered the fraudulent loans.
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Three of the six people indicted with Rabuffo in January pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud before his trial in June, cooperated with federal prosecutors and have been sentenced to prison.
Rabuffo's ex-wife, Mae Rabuffo, former development manager Raymond Olivier, and Tampa mortgage and investment company owner Curtis Allen Davis were convicted with him and await sentencing Oct. 30. All three have denied knowledge of the fraud and implicated Rabuffo in documents filed since the trial. All face the possibility of 30-year prison sentences.
Olivier, in a post-trial notice, says he met Rabuffo in Las Vegas in 2005 and thought he was a well-known developer and very wealthy man because he traveled by private jet and had a chauffeur-driven Bentley.
Associates who pleaded guilty and assisted prosecutors at trial:
• Victor M. Vidal, a former SunTrust Mortgage vice president from Miami. He was sentenced to five years and four months in prison and ordered to pay $18.2 million to SunTrust.
• Rabuffo's longtime administrative assistant, Diane Hayduk, 65, of Miami was sentenced to three years and four months in prison. She was also ordered to help pay $34 million in restitution to SunTrust, Regions Bank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
• Miami accountant Lazaro J. Perez was sentenced to 2 1/2 years and ordered to pay $2.2 million in restitution. Perez began cooperating with prosecutors more than a year before Rabuffo and the others were indicted. He was accused of falsifying information to help some straw buyers qualify for loans.
The land Rabuffo left behind was once a pristine mountaintop. Several houses were started but none was finished, and building officials say the remaining hulks are likely to be "teardowns'' because there is no water or sewer service available to the lots.