Realtor lied to get license — and got away with it
Published: October 13, 2010
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Rosemary Sauter came to St. Thomas a felon — guilty of swindling a California development company out of more than $25,000 in 1981 — and lied about her conviction so that she could sell real estate in the Virgin Islands.
She was extremely successful and by early this year, she owned the largest real estate office on St. Thomas, she had a thriving restaurant-bar-gambling machine operation and she had an accounting firm.
Then she vanished. And so did
The V.I. Justice Department issued a warrant for Sauter’s arrest on Feb. 4 and two weeks ago issued a second warrant that accuses Sauter of embezzlement, grand larceny and obtaining money by false pretenses.
Her bail was set at $1 million.
“The investigation into and search for Rosemary Sauter remains an active one, and the newest warrant for her arrest indicates this,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sara Lezama said in a written statement Tuesday. “The charges filed against Sauter are consistent with previously filed charges wherein Sauter allegedly swindled several unwitting victims out of not only tens of thousands of dollars but also their dreams of home ownership in the Virgin Islands.”
Lezama’s statement hinted that more charges could come against Sauter, who once was president of both the V.I. Territorial Board of Realtors and the St. Thomas Board of Realtors — even though Sauter had a felony record and had served a prison sentence before she arrived on St. Thomas.
An investigation by The Daily News has found that Sauter was arrested in 1983 and accused of taking more than $25,000 from Lewis W. Douglas Development Co. in February and March of 1981, when she was 29 years old.
She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 120 days in the San Francisco County Jail and five years’ probation for felony grand theft.
Sauter was married at the time of her conviction and used the name Rosemary Chernowsky.
While still on probation, Sauter moved to St. Thomas, where she set up the accounting firm Sauter and Associates — despite her criminal history and apparent lack of financial education.
Sauter claimed to have attended college at Pennsylvania State University’s Erie Campus, but The Daily News found that the university has no record of her ever having been enrolled at any of its campuses.
Sauter’s lies did not stop with her education.
Sauter became a licensed V.I. real estate agent in 1996, lying to conceal her felony conviction to do so.
The Real Estate License Application asks applicants whether they have been convicted of any crime other than a minor traffic violation.
Sauter answered “No.”
Under the V.I. Real Estate Commission’s rules and regulations, Sauter’s conviction would have prevented her from becoming a real estate agent.
Sauter lied about her felony again in her 1999 Real Estate Broker’s License Application.
In January 2000, the California Superior Court granted Sauter’s motion to vacate her guilty plea, but the court included in its decision the following:
“This order does not not relieve the defendant of the obligation to disclose the conviction in response to any direct question contained in any questionnaire or application for public office, for licensure by any state or local agency, or for contracting with the California State Lottery.”
Sauter again failed to disclose her conviction on a change-of-business-place application filed when her company, RE/MAX Dream Properties, moved to the Lockhart Gardens Shopping Center in July 2008.
A veteran member of the V.I. Real Estate Commission, Peggy Simmonds, said that the commission requires applicants to attach a background check from the V.I. Police Department to their applications.
The V.I. Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs — which processes real estate applications for the commission — has a background check on file for Sauter, dated July 11, 2008, showing no criminal record.
Police spokeswoman Melody Rames said that the background check applies only to Virgin Islands charges — not to California crimes.
Sauter, therefore, was able to exploit lapses in V.I. enforcement to set herself up on St. Thomas and become entrusted with and in control of millions of dollars of real estate clients’ money.