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  1. Florida Politics

Two Tampa Bay men sentenced to 20 years in N.C. real estate fraud case

Long prison sentences were handed down Thursday for three principals in a North Carolina real estate fraud case, including two from the Tampa Bay area.

Miami developer Domenic Rabuffo, 78, recruited straw buyers in several Florida cities. The buyers had hoped to profit from lending their names and credit ratings for fraudulent mortgage transactions that netted the developer more than $50­ million.

Rabuffo was sentenced Sept. 30 to more than 27 years in federal prison.

Late Thursday in Miami, U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore sentenced Rabuffo's 75-­year-old former wife, Mae Rabuffo, to 14 years in prison.

Engineer Raymond Olivier, 53, of Land O'Lakes and Curtis Allen Davis, 51, owner of Executive Mortgage and Investments Inc. in Tampa, each were sentenced to 20 years.

Mae Rabuffo, Olivier and Davis all denied knowing about the fraudulent scheme, saying they were duped by Domenic Rabuffo, a former New York resident who went to federal prison in the early 1990s in a similar mortgage fraud scheme.

Mae Rabuffo's attorneys say her ex-­husband often forged her name on documents, and was also maintaining a relationship with another woman.

"She was a wife who signed documents at her husband's instruction only to later discover she had been used in more ways than one,'' noted New York lawyer Joseph Corozzo in a petition urging the judge to let her serve a sentence under house arrest. Prosecutors contend she collected more than $1 million from the scheme and urged the judge to sentence her to more than 20 years.

Altogether, prosecutors say the value of loans for the North Carolina development, Hampton Springs Resort, was supposed to net more than $72 million from unsuspecting banks. The banks did not distribute the final $22 million in approved loans because SunTrust became suspicious and began investigating.

Domenic Rabuffo has been ordered to pay restitution totaling $34.3 million. Restitution for the other three will be determined at a hearing in February.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dwayne Williams, in a sentencing memo filed Wednesday, contends that the land, once a pristine mountaintop near Cashiers, N.C., has little value now. There is no water or sewer service to any of the lots; partially constructed houses dot the landscape. Banks have foreclosed on all of the property, giving some of it to charitable groups and selling the rest for as little as $2,000 a lot.

Rabuffo began acquiring land in 2004, putting all but a single lot in his former wife's name. He subsequently sold 1-acre and .5-acre lots to the straw buyers, who were promised as much as $25,000 to take title to the land and apply for mortgages varying from $206,000 to $2 million.

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