V.I. judge sets bail for Sauter at $1.25 million

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ST. THOMAS - Runaway Realtor Rosemary Sauter raised her handcuffed right hand on Friday and swore to tell the truth during her first appearance in territorial court since she fled the Virgin Islands more than four years ago.

Sauter, who arrived on St. Thomas by airplane just after 9 p.m. Thursday, wore a red jumpsuit as she stood before V.I. Superior Court Magistrate Carolyn Hermon-Percell. Recognizing that Sauter had been on the run for four years, Hermon-Percell set Sauter's bail at $1.25 million.

Sauter, 62, is facing one count of violating the Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act; 13 counts of embezzlement by fiduciaries; two counts of obtaining money by false pretenses; and one count of drawing and delivering worthless checks.

Thus far, authorities estimate that Sauter - while working as a Realtor on-island - illegally took at least $886,625, according to reports that the V.I. Attorney General's Office has received since its investigation began in early 2010.

"Many witnesses were interviewed, and many of the witnesses told Ms. Sauter that they were going to the AG's office," said Assistant Attorney General Denise George-Counts, who is prosecuting the case.

Included in the reports describing what the Attorney General's Office said is Sauter's illicit activity are nine separate accounts of allegations against Sauter, all of them stemming from transactions between her and clients between Jan. 1, 2008, and Feb. 4, 2010.

According to the investigation of Kenneth Schulterbrandt Jr., special agent with the U.S. Department of Justice Special Investigations Division, Sauter's charges are based on the following incidents reported in February 2010:

- Gary and Ila Moe accused Sauter of misusing her business' escrow account to take $100,000 of the couple's money. It is unclear when the incident occurred.

The couple offered to purchase a residence, which had Sauter as the selling broker on the property, which was listed by another broker who worked at RE/MAX Dream Properties, Sauter's business. Sauter took a $1,000 deposit from the Moes, who - on the same day - put their condominium up for sale with Sauter. The Moes purchase offer was contingent on their condominium being sold.

However, when Sauter showed the people selling the residence the Moes' contract offer, did not show them sellers the condition added by the Moes, according to Schulterbrandt. At the same time, Sauter told the Moes that the people selling the residence agreed to the condition, Schulterbrandt said.

According to the investigation, Sauter continued to mislead the Moes to believe that their offer had been accepted with their condition, so they wired $99,000 to the escrow account, which made their total loss $100,000, which they still have not regained. The contract never was accepted.

- James and Bonnie Beal accused Sauter of asking them to deposit $700,000 into her escrow account in August 2008 under the pretext that they would earn 20 percent interest annually on the principal during a period of 18 months.

However, the agreement was fraudulent because the escrow account was a non-interest bearing account, according to Schulterbrandt. The Beals have neither received back the principal amount of $700,000, nor the annual interest that Sauter promised.

- Warren Stryker, owner of Stryker Real Estate, said that Sauter failed to provide $32,500 for a property closing that was supposed to take place Feb. 1, 2010. Additionally, a broker from RE/MAX Dream Properties had completed a contract with a broker from Stryker Real Estate, and during the transaction, $16,000 was deposited into Sauter's escrow account, though the closing date was in March.

- Antonio Stridiron deposited $7,000 into Sauter's escrow account in June 2008, according to Schulterbrandt. The money was to go toward the purchase of a residence, though no progress was made toward the purchase during a period of two years. Stridiron canceled the contract to purchase the home, and subsequently requested a refund of his money, though he never received one, Schulterbrandt said.

- Joseph John Lewis deposited $5,000 into Sauter's escrow account after entering into a contract to purchase a residence. The purchase never took place, and his money never was returned, Schulterbrandt said.

- Aaron Wozniak in December 2009 deposited $1,000 into Sauter's escrow account to have RE/MAX Dream Properties manage his rental property. When Sauter's business closed, a broker informed him that his money no longer was available to him.

- Truvia and Christian Plaskett deposited $6,750 into Sauter's escrow account after entering into a contract to purchase a residence. They discovered through local news media that Sauter's office closed in February 2010, after which they could not access their deposit.

- Charles and Roberta Sebastien deposited $8,375 to RE/MAX Dream Properties after entering into a contract to purchase a residence. They discovered through local news media that Sauter's office closed in February 2010, after which they could not access their deposit.

- Myrtle Evans deposited $10,000 to RE/MAX Dream Properties after entering into a contract to purchase a residence. On Jan. 10, 2010, Evans canceled her contract and asked for a refund of her deposit, which Sauter promised to refund but has not done so to date, Schulterbrandt said.

According to the Attorney General's Office, Sauter left the territory on Feb. 2, 2010, just two days before the initial warrant for her arrest was issued. The office issued a second warrant in September the same year.

The office came close to apprehending Sauter after it issued the first warrant, as Sauter had purchased an airplane ticket leaving from Miami.

"Something happened, and she didn't board that flight," George-Counts said.

In the years to follow, the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service were on alert, keeping an eye out for Sauter. It was not until Jan. 31 that the Attorney General's Office received any word of her whereabouts.

Sauter, who remains in the custody of the V.I. Bureau of Corrections, can be freed on pretrial release is she meets the 10 percent bond required, in cash or property. If released, she will be required to wear electronic monitoring, according to Hermon-Percell.

Sauter's daughter was present in court Friday and stated that she would be willing to take her mother in temporarily until her stepfather and Sauter's husband, Jacob Frett, is able to acquire a landline.

Frett was not present in court Friday.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.1983: At age 29, Sauter - who was married at the time and using the name Rosemary Chernowsky - is arrested and accused of taking more than $25,000 from Lewis W. Douglas Development Co. in February and March of 1981. She pleads guilty in the California court system and is sentenced to 120 days in the San Francisco County Jail and five years' probation for felony grand theft.

1996: Sauter becomes a licensed V.I. real estate agent after lying on the license application that she does not have a felony conviction.

1999: Sauter lies about her felony again on the application to get her real estate broker's license.

2000: The California Superior Court grants Sauter's motion to vacate her guilty plea, but mandates that Sauter make clear in any questionnaire or application for public office or licensure, that she is a felon.

2008: Sauter again fails to disclose her conviction on a change-of-business-place application filed when her company, RE/MAX Dream Properties, moves to the Lockhart Gardens Shopping Center in July.

December 2008: Attorneys in the trial of V.I. Police Capt. Enrique Saldana and Sgt. George Greene, who were charged with extorting suspected drug dealer Richard Motta, imply that Sauter had tried to hire Motta to kill her husband, Jacob Frett. Sauter is not charged, and the trial ends in a deadlocked jury.

January 2010: Sauter testifies in the second trial of Saldana, Greene and their co-defendant, drug dealer Louis Roldan, who all are found guilty.

Feb. 2, 2010: Sauter takes a flight from St. Thomas to Miami.

Feb. 4, 2010: The V.I. Attorney General's Office issues a warrant for her arrest on charges of embezzlement, grand larceny and obtaining money by false pretenses. The warrant remains sealed.

October 2010: The U.S. Attorney's Office releases a warrant for Sauter's arrest. The warrant remains sealed.

2013: Sauter manages to pay off a federal tax lien of more than $2,600 while on the run, though the Internal Revenue Service provides no information about how she paid off the lien or when.

Jan. 30, 2014: An FBI agent and three deputies from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department arrive at Sauter's apartment in Fallbrook, Calif., where they arrest Sauter, who is jailed in the detention facility in Vista, Calif.

Jan. 31, 2014: The FBI relocates Sauter, fingerprinting and photographing her, before moving her into the Metropolitan Corrections Center in San Diego, Calif.

March 2014: Sauter initially attempts to fight extradition, then on March 31 decides to waive extradition.

April 2014: Authorities from the territory fly to San Diego to retrieve Sauter.

April 3, 2014: Sauter arrives back in the territory.

April 4, 2014: Sauter is advised of her rights on 17 counts by V.I. Superior Court Magistrate Carolyn Hermon-Percell.

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