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Business partners voiced concerns to Cabrera about flip

By Staff | Jan 9, 2009

Two of Samir Cabrera’s one-time business partners questioned his 2006 plan to flip a pair of investment properties but were reassured by the real estate agent, they told jurors Thursday in Cabrera’s federal fraud trial.
The maneuvers put more money in the partners’ pockets, at the expense of investors.
One also testified that Cabrera told him not to mention the deal when recruiting investors.
“He said, ‘You don’t need to tell them as long as it’s all in the documents and they sign the documents,'” said Raymond DeMarco, one of Cabrera’s former partners.
It was not in most of the documents. Cabrera, 32, now faces 12 federal counts of fraud and money laundering on allegations he intentionally left out the disclosures to scam investors out of $2.8 million.
Cabrera blames the exclusion on a real estate lawyer he hired to craft the investment documents.
Also Thursday, three investors told jurors that Cabrera’s father-in-law, Lee County Manager Don Stilwell, was a selling point for the investments.
The two properties, located on Fiddlesticks Boulevard in south Fort Myers, would have almost certainly benefited from a proposed county road extension.
DeMarco and the other partner who testified, Todd Turner, had once run STR & Associates LLC with Cabrera. The company bought both lots in 2006 and resold — or “flipped” — them at higher prices to investor-funded companies run by Cabrera.
The three made good money from their efforts — Cabrera more than $600,000, and Demarco and Turner each about $300,000. But Demarco and Turner said they questioned the flips, which, in five prior projects with Cabrera, they had never seen.
“As long as it’s legit and legal and everyone knows about it,” is how Turner described his reasoning.
During one of the weekly recruiter meetings, some wondered aloud if the money should be left with the projects until development was complete.
“Who made the final decision on that?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Barclift asked Turner.
“Samir,” he replied.
Cabrera’s attorney, John Mills, noted that both men took profits from the flips, and that neither told investors.
The Fiddlesticks projects failed, as did the previous five projects run by Cabrera. Ground was never broken on any, as none secured construction loans. By April 2007, the two accounts together held just under $1,100.
The relationship between Turner, who managed the development side of each project, and Cabrera soured in the fall of 2006. Turner was fired, but he demanded an $850,000 settlement from Cabrera, who he said owed him for unpaid work.
For leverage, Turner withheld consultant studies and data from all the projects. He also may have documented what he said were questionable expenses made by Cabrera with money from the development company.
Turner told jurors he found line items about a jet rental that cost about $7,000 and dinners in Las Vegas that ran between $10,000 and $15,000.
“Looked like there was a lot of money flying around, not being used for projects … I didn’t like what I saw,” he said.
Mills said Turner did not do as much work as he claimed, and he called Turner’s settlement “extortion.”
“So you were holding all the projects hostage, weren’t you?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t call it that,” Turner replied, although he did hand over the studies after receiving the first half of his settlement.
Some of the settlement money appears to have come from the Fiddlesticks projects.
Five more investors testified Thursday, including three who said Cabrera and other recruiters boasted that Stilwell could assist with the project’s development.
“He said, ‘Do you know who my father-in-law is?'” recalled Bob Mengle. “‘He’s Don Stilwell, the county manager. He’s going to take care of these things and get them through.'”
Another investor, John Edward Joyce Jr., recalled going to a dinner with Cabrera, Stilwell and another investor in which some at the table started discussing Stilwell’s position.
“It was more of a talking going on around the table and that we shouldn’t have a problem with permitting because he was the (county) manager,” Joyce said, noting that he never heard Stilwell say it.
The county investigated Stilwell’s relationship with Cabrera’s projects last fall. He was cleared of any wrongdoing.
If Cabrera is convicted, he could face a maximum 190 years in prison.

Steven Beardsley is a staff writer for the Naples Daily News. Contact sbeardsley@bonitanews.com.