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Jury begins deliberations in Samir Cabrera trial

By Staff | Jan 13, 2009

Samir Cabrera’s fate now rests with the deliberations of 12 strangers.
The eight women and four men of a jury drawn from across Southwest Florida filed out of a federal courtroom in Fort Myers on Tuesday afternoon, charged with determining whether the 32-year-old real estate agent is a con man deserving of prison time or a broken businessman best left to restart his life a free man.
In closing statements, jurors heard both accounts.
“This is a person who had the gift of gab,” said Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey Michelland as he leaned on the podium. “Don’t let him con you.”
Cabrera’s attorney, John Mills, saw things differently.
“Long story short — negligence versus intent,” he told jurors.
The deliberations mark the end of Cabrera’s seven-day trial for fraud and money laundering charges. Prosecutors allege he scammed investors by hiding two property flips — maneuvers in which Cabrera bought land at market value and then sold it to investors on the same day at a higher price, pocketing the $2.8 million difference.
Cabrera does not deny the flips, but he blames two employees for not disclosing the deals in the course of their work.
If convicted, he faces 20 years for each of the six mail and wire fraud counts and 10 years for each of five money laundering counts.
Judge John E. Steele charged jurors with instructions before releasing them to deliberate at 3:15 p.m. At 5 p.m., Steele granted their request to go home for the night. They will return to court at 9 a.m. today.
Cabrera’s guilt must be beyond a reasonable doubt, Steele said, a belief so reliable that they could “act on it without hesitation in the most important of your affairs.”
In a word, the case comes down to intent, both parties said Tuesday.
That Cabrera personally made more than $600,000 by flipping two pieces of land on Fiddlesticks Boulevard, off Daniels Parkway, is not up for discussion.
That he spent his gains on Las Vegas nightclubs and high-end clothing stores, never developed a single project, eventually lost everything and saw his own home foreclosed by Frank D’Alessandro, the man who taught him everything about real estate, is agreed upon by all involved.
The sticking point is whether he meant to keep those flips secret.
“Is this a person who has no business sense?” Michelland asked jurors in his closing statement. “Is this a person who doesn’t know how to make money? Quite the contrary. He knows how to make money. Ask yourself, is (the defense) reasonable?”
Prosecutors described Cabrera as a businessman intent on wringing every dollar out of his projects. The flips made him even more money, they said, and he assumed each maneuver would be hidden by a high octane development market that seemed to command higher land prices with time.
When the market stumbled, investors lost money and they started wondering what happened, prosecutors said.
“He knew in his heart that no one would invest if they knew the defendant and his friends were taking out $2.8 million … in a matter of minutes,” Michelland told jurors.
They built their case on witnesses who testified Cabrera knew each flip had to be disclosed and was in a position to ensure they were.
Cabrera’s case was about “power and greed,” Michelland said.
“Does it make sense that someone like Cabrera — who wants all the power and control — would let an attorney call the shots?” he asked.
For Mills, his client was a careless businessman burned by a bad real estate attorney and former chief operating officer, as well as the timing of the market. But he was not a schemer, he said.
“The government has proved a perfect negligence case. … They proved he was a bad businessman, they proved he didn’t read everything given to him, and they proved he had too much going on and should have focused on what was in front of him,” Mills said.
He noted the flip was disclosed in one of the deal’s documents, but that investors still gave their money. He asked what reason his client would have for not disclosing the deals.
“I think you get a flavor of the fever of the market,” Mills said. “Everyone wanted to get involved, everyone wanted to make money.”
He also attacked the way Cabrera’s investigation was handled, noting that investigators did not question the real estate attorney until three weeks before the trial.
“Does that sound like a complete investigation to you?” he asked.
Each of the 11 counts against Cabrera is predicated on the same allegation, that he intentionally devised a “scheme to fraud.” Mills asked jurors to make one decision for all counts.
“I’d submit to you it’s an all-or-nothing verdict form,” he said.
Assistant United States Attorney Robert Barclift agreed during his rebuttal.
“If you find he did have that intent, find him guilty in all the counts,” he said. “If you believe he was simply negligent, find him innocent.”
Also Tuesday, Cabrera agreed that, if found guilty, he would allow the court to decide the level of forfeitures. Prosecutors are asking for more than $550,000 in money Cabrera made from his deals.

Steven Beardsley is a staff writer for the Naples Daily News.