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Cabrera found guilty on all counts by federal jury

By Staff | Jan 14, 2009

A federal jury found Fort Myers real estate agent Samir Cabrera guilty of 11 counts of fraud and money laundering for his role in a pair of undisclosed property transactions.
Judge John E. Steele will sentence him on April 27. Cabrera will remain free until that date.
Cabrera, 32, showed little reaction as Steele read each verdict.
His wife, former NBC-2 anchor Jessica Stilwell, put her head in her hands. She was comforted by her father, Lee County Manager Don Stilwell who sat beside her and held her hand.
Cabrera’s charges combine for a maximum 170-year prison sentence, a sum sure to be reduced in a pre-sentencing report.
Chief Assistant United States Attorney Douglas Molloy lauded the verdicts as a warning against illicit real estate transactions.
“This kind of criminal act can’t go unchecked,” he said. “I think that’s what the jury was saying.”
“I think this will change the way we do business in Southwest Florida for at least five years,” he added.
Prosecutors alleged that Cabrera bilked investors of $2.8 million through a pair of property flips — maneuvers in which he bought pieces of south Fort Myers land at market rate and then resold them to investors, on the same day, for a much higher price.
He personally made about $600,000 on the two deals, which he executed in 2006.
Cabrera blamed a real estate attorney and his former chief operating officer for not disclosing the flips in the course of their work.
The jury was comprised of eight women and four men drawn from Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties. Among the group were a retired banker, three nurses and a hair stylist. All jurors appeared to be middle-aged or older.
They notified Steele of their verdict around 6:30 p.m., nearly 10 hours after deliberations began Wednesday morning. Deliberations started Tuesday at 3:15 p.m., following seven days of testimony from Cabrera’s associates, federal investigators and Stilwell.
Around 3 p.m. Wednesday, jurors told the judge they had reached an impasse. Steele brought them into the courtroom and read the “Allen Charge,” a set of instructions encouraging jurors to discuss their differences and come to an agreement.
Tom Messina, 51, an investor in one of Cabrera’s projects off Daniels Parkway, said the verdicts represented justice. He said he had tried to warn Cabrera about the risk to his projects.
“The bottom line is that what led up to this, to make it where it came to this grand jury and these courtroom scenes, could have been prevented,” he said.
Messina expressed regret that Cabrera’s family would lose a husband and father, but he said many investors had suffered from Cabrera’s decisions.
“I don’t know if you realize how devastated many families are,” he said. “They’re in bankruptcies, they’re losing their homes.”
During the trial, prosecutors detailed how Cabrera used his gains on expensive Las Vegas nightclubs and high-end clothing stores, among other expenses. Meanwhile, both projects failed, as did a handful of other developments Cabrera and his associates managed.
Witnesses testified that by undertaking the flips, Cabrera had removed significant equity from the projects, dooming their chances of succeeding and destroying any chance that investors would get their money back.
Several investors testified they would not have given Cabrera their money had they been aware of the flips. Among the investors were a Wall Street investment manager, an Ohio truck stop waitress and a Pennsylvania landscaper.
Following the verdicts, prosecutors hung back as Cabrera, his wife and family left the courtroom. Emotions ran high outside, and a few raised voices were audible before the group left the building.
All declined to talk to reporters, including Cabrera’s attorney, John Mills.
Government prosecutors Robert Barclift and Jeffrey Michelland agreed to allow Cabrera to remain free until sentencing, but they expressed concern about his ability to conduct real estate transactions during the period between.
Cabrera currently works in a real estate company in Miami. His passports have been confiscated.
Mills said he was not sure what would happen to Cabrera’s license, although he was sure the verdicts would have repercussions for his licensing.
Whether the verdicts’ repercussions will extend beyond Cabrera is unclear. Molloy, in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to talk about investigations into any of Cabrera’s associates.
Cabrera was found guilty of six fraud counts and five money laundering counts. The former carry a 20-year maximum sentence each, and the money laundering charges are each worth 10 years in prison.

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