Rosemary Sauter arrested in San Diego


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ST. THOMAS - The FBI arrested Realtor-turned-fugitive Rosemary Sauter on Thursday in California.

Found living in an apartment in a suburban area outside of San Diego, Sauter came to the door to find an FBI agent and three San Diego County Sheriff's deputies with warrants for her arrest, according to Lt. Dave Schaller of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Another woman, whose relationship to Sauter is not known, answered the knock on the door, then called for Sauter when the woman saw the law enforcement officers.

Sauter did not resist arrest, Schaller said.

Sauter, 62, fled the Virgin Islands after thousands of dollars worth of checks began to bounce in connection with escrow accounts that she used during real estate transactions.

Prior to her disappearance, Sauter was a successful Realtor and had the largest realty office on St. Thomas by early 2010, about 14 years after she illegally acquired her real estate license in the territory. She operated a real estate office, an accounting firm and a restaurant-bar.

She once also had been the president of the V.I. Territorial Board of Realtors and the St. Thomas Board of Realtors.

"I pride myself in being honest, trustworthy and reliable. I have a knack for understanding my customers and clients' needs. I am friendly and have a reputation for getting the job done," Sauter wrote on her profile that still can be found on LinkedIn, a social networking website.

After Sauter fled the territory in February 2010, the V.I. Attorney General's Office issued a warrant for her arrest. The U.S. Attorney's Office followed suit eight months later, issuing a federal warrant for Sauter's arrest in October 2010.

Sauter is accused of absconding with more than $3 million of her clients' and fellow investors' money and she faces charges of embezzlement, grand larceny and obtaining money by false pretenses.

Sauter initially was booked Thursday into the Vista Detention Facility in Vista, Calif., after the sheriff's department and FBI arrested her at her apartment in the Sunset Pointe apartment complex in Fallbrook, Calif., which claims to be "The Friendly Village," and also "The Avocado Capital of the World."

On Friday, the FBI removed her from the local jail and took her into custody, photographed her, fingerprinted her and relocated her to a federal prison, the Metropolitan Corrections Center in San Diego, according to FBI spokesman Darrell Foxworth.

When Sauter will be extradited to the U.S. Virgin Islands has yet to be determined, Foxworth said, assuming that she will be extradited.

"That's usually what happens in these cases," Foxworth said, noting that a number of motions and hearings likely will have to precede her extradition.

Sauter, according San Diego County Sheriff Deputy Sheriff Shane Allison, had not changed much in appearance based on the mug shot that he and other deputies were shown. Neither the Sheriff's Department nor the FBI have policies allowing them to release photographs of the people that they take into custody.

Sauter still had short hair, Allison said, though it appeared that she had dyed it black.

Standing at 5-feet, 4-inches tall and weighing 200 pounds, Sauter wore a flower blouse and silky pants when she opened the door, seemingly unsurprised by the officers and the agent awaiting her, Allison said.

"It's almost like she knew," he said.

Soon after her arrest, word spread like wildfire to the Virgin Islands of Sauter's detainment - although not to everyone.

"Where was she arrested?" asked Sauter's husband, Jacob Frett, who still runs an auto shop on St. Thomas.

Frett said he was entirely unaware of his wife's arrest, and he had not heard from her in years. "I'm very surprised. I did not know," Frett said.

Still disbelieving the news Friday evening, Frett said that he would not talk to their children, who miss their mother very much, he said, until he could confirm it. He did not disclose how many children they have together.

He said he would love to see her again, but he did not want to relive the mayhem that followed her disappearance years before.

"I went through all that already," he said.

Others in the territory were floored by the news for other reasons, primarily because rumors abounded of what happened to Sauter after her disappearance.

"We want to know where she's been, what she's been doing," said Kerstin McConnell, a local realtor and director of the National Association of Realtors.

Word that Sauter was dead had traveled around the territory, as well as word that she was freewheeling all around the globe, gambling.

"There's this feeling of closure," McConnell said. "The thing with Rosemary Sauter that deeply hurt the community was that she didn't just steal from the rich, she took from the hardworking middle class and the poor."

McConnell, who said she conducted several transactions with Sauter, said she started seeing red flags towards the end, when Sauter's checks would bounce.

Still, so many people were easily fooled because Sauter was professional and well-established.

"It sounds funny now, but she was good with money," McConnell said.

Whether people ever will see their money returned is a huge question for those who claim to have lost savings to Sauter.

Attorney Jim Derr represented a client who lost $750,000 to what the client ultimately became convinced was a scheme by Sauter, Derr said.

The client, Bob Beal, passed away about a year after Sauter's departure, though, at this point, Derr said he may continue the lawsuit on behalf of Beal's widow, Bonnie.

"It's going to be interesting trying to track the money down," Derr said.

Within the real estate community, the wrongdoings law enforcement officials have said Sauter committed have changed the way business is conducted in the territory, forcing realtors to self-police to an extent.

"I don't think any of us - including the brokers, agents and the clients, will ever be whole again," said Tanya Van Blake-Coleman, current president of the Virgin Islands Territorial Association of Realtors.

Van Blake-Coleman said that hundreds of people were directly impacted by Sauter's actions.

"We're hopeful that justice will be served," she said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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