Said he had no idea it was fake
Marc Valero | Highlands TodaySEBRING - As a real-estate agent, Robert Dygert said he makes a living selling property, but he unwittingly became the name and face behind what a lawsuit calls a fraudulent scheme to scam more than $200,000 from property owners.
Published: November 16, 2012
Published: November 16, 2012
Dygert worked for Sun 'n Lake Real Estate Services Inc., which was owned and operated by Robert Severino.
Severino, who was convicted of multiple counts of grand theft involving Sun 'n Lake property owners, was sentenced in September to eight years in prison, 12 years probation and ordered to pay $297,374 in restitution.
A Miami law firm has filed a lawsuit on behalf of 20 property owners against Severino, Dygert and the Sun 'n Lake of Sebring Improvement District.
Concerning Dygert, the lawsuit claims unjust enrichment, deceptive trade practices, fraudulent inducement, negligent misrepresentation and civil conspiracy to defraud.
At the office of his Sebring lawyer, Nicholas Schommer, Dygert said he worked for Severino for six years and had no reason to doubt his actions.
Dygert explained that Sun 'n Lake property owners were required to pay for improvements funded by a road bond and a utility bond.
He makes his living selling property, he said, but prospective buyers are turned off when he shows them lots that with a $10,000 or $20,000 bond that is owed on top of the price of the property.
"Mr. Severino sent all the associates this plan he had and said he had done this in the past and he had it all organized," Dygert said. "I was ecstatic; it was just great stuff.
"We proceeded along those lines that he was going to take care of those bonds. That's what he said in his email to us."
Dygert said, according to Severino, the road bond would be settled with a $3,000 payment no matter how much the property owner owed on it and the utility bond would be settled with a $3,500 payment.
Postcards were sent to property owners informing them of Severino's bond payment settlement agreement with the Sun 'n Lake Improvement District, Dygert said.
Court documents show a number of property owners signed bond payoff agreements in 2010 with Sun 'n Lake Real Estate Services, Inc.
When he answered the phone calls, Dygert said "I just absolutely told folks the way he [Severino] told it to me."
When the bonds were paid off, the property owners could then sell their lots, Dygert said.
Severino said it would take six months for the bonds to be paid off, Dygert said. But, it went to six months, to seven months and then eight months and Severino always had good reasons for the delays.
Dygert said he had been with Severino for six years and he had always been a "straight arrow" with him and a fine man to work with.
Severino continued to send emails saying everything would be taken care of and don't worry about it, but it may take a little more time, Dygert said: "So we went along with the program because we really believed in it and really thought it was good, and there was no reason to think otherwise."
The money the property owners paid went to Sun 'n Lake Real Estate and he had nothing to do with it, Dygert said. "I never saw it; never received it."
Schommer said the money was either paid by check or sometimes customers would wire money directly to Severino's bank account.
Severino's checks to the Sun 'n Lake Improvement District bounced, according to court records.
So why is Dygert facing a lawsuit?
He was successful at having people apply for Severino's bond payment schedule because he really believed in it, Dygert said.
"When people called the office it was mostly me they talked to, and I would relay to them what Mr. Severino had told me," Dygert said. He also informed the property owners by email.
Severino spent half his time at another real-estate company he had in the Kissimmee area, Dygert noted.
"I was the name and the face; I always answered the telephone," Dygert said. In the final months he was the only person in the office.
As this dragged on didn't you have any doubts? When did you suspect that something wasn't right?
Mostly at the end, Dygert said. Severino had never lied to him in the past.
Even at the very end, Severino would send emails stating, "Don't worry, we've got the money," Dygert said.
Schommer said Severino was giving the customers Dygert's name and number as the contact for more information; so many people wrongly got the idea that Dygert and Severino were partners.
The lawsuit claims Dygert was a corporate member of Sun 'n Lake Realty. He owns no stock in that company, he has never been an officer in that company, he was just a sales associate for Sun 'n Lake Reality, Schommer said.
If there was no response or rebuttal to the lawsuit, people would feel like it was true, he said.
Dygert wanted the community to know he was not part of trying to scheme to defraud all these people and take their money, Schommer said. Nobody has ever pursued him criminally and he still has his license to sell real estate and he is doing the best that he can.
"I think it will be proven that I am not part of it," Dygert said.
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