Speculation Rampant Over Vanished St. Thomas Real Estate Broker

She fled to Venezuela via Cuba … or lost all her money in high-stakes poker tournaments … or she’s living a posh life under federal witness protection, and the feds will soon fix this whole sordid mess.
That’s just a taste—hors d’oeuvres, if you will—of a juicy feast of rumors tempting St. Thomians in the wake of the sudden disappearance of St. Thomas real estate broker and businesswoman Rosemary Sauter.
The truth, however, has yet to even be sketched by law enforcement officials now on the lookout for Sauter ever since she vanished early last week.
As the broker and owner of RE/MAX Dream Properties on St. Thomas, Sauter held the only key to several large pools of money—escrow accounts into which buyers deposited down payments while financial institutions cleared real estate deals.
Without Sauter around to write checks, those accounts are now off limits to the agents—and their clients who need them.
Red flags, such as broken promises and late payments, alerted fellow realtors and brokers to potential troubles last month. And after several recent deals failed to close due to insufficient funds in the escrow accounts controlled by Sauter, the St. Thomas Board of Realtors last week issued an urgent statement warning members not to deposit money into RE/MAX Dream Properties accounts.
Since then, the question on many V.I. minds is: Where’s Rosemary and how much money has she got?
By adding all the claims from people who’ve come to the board saying they cannot access funds in the RE/MAX accounts, St. Thomas Board of Realtors President Kerstin McConnell said Monday that she can confirm at last that approximately $2.5 million is now at stake.
The board has yet to explain, however, how the industry could permit one person to control—or disappear with—so much.
Everyone now seems to know someone, who knows someone, who has lost something to Sauter.
To read the recent comments on the popular St. Thomas blog might lead one to expect lynch mobs—or libel suits.
Amid the clamor, however, officials from the V.I. Department of Justice have been relatively hushed.
After issuing a statement Friday confirming there was a warrant for her arrest, Justice officials on Monday cautioned against reaching conclusions, saying investigators have not yet examined Sauter’s accounts and cannot confirm that anything is actually missing.
“We have no warrant to search her property or office,” DOJ spokeswoman Sara Lezama said Monday.
“At this point we have just secured the properties,” she said of Sauter’s Lockhart Gardens RE/MAX office, where computers and files might hold the key to the accounts in question. That office has been sealed shut since Friday with tape that reads, “Crime scene.”
“Right now everyone is just speculating,” Lezama said.
So far, she said, local authorities have not frozen Sauter’s accounts.
A local judge last week also denied a temporary restraining order against Sauter requested by several local realtors trying to block Sauter’s access to the RE/MAX escrow accounts.
“We have issued an arrest warrant, and we are looking for her,” Lezama said Monday, adding that the DOJ has enlisted the help of U.S. Marshals to spot Sauter at air- and seaports.
Not much more information has been issued by either local or federal authorities.
And that’s very frustrating to residents such as Chuck Pessler, who said that on the day before it was sealed by police, he visited Sauter’s Lockhart Gardens office looking for some $22,000 he’d deposited with RE/MAX Dream Properties for a condo.
“It looked like it had been ransacked,” said Pessler, who had been promised a check from Sauter to close a purchase on a Cowpet Bay condo on Jan. 29.
Pessler said he had made a good faith deposit of $1,000 to Sauter, and then deposited $21,500 as a down payment with Sauter through his real estate agent, Marsha Maynes.
Sauter never sent him a check, he said.
Since his deal failed, Pessler said he has asked the V.I. Attorney General’s office for help, with no success. He said he was offered no way to get a refund for his money and was disappointed to learn that the DOJ had not issued a warrant or restricted Sauter’s access to the accounts.
When Pessler received copies of both of his checks, he said he knew for sure that he’d been had. The $1,000 check showed that it was deposited into a RE/MAX escrow account. But the one for $21,500, however, showed that it had been deposited into the RE/MAX operating account.
“I’ve lost my money, from what I can tell,” Pessler said Monday. “And I’ve certainly lost my house, my condo,” he said, adding that the seller has since gone into foreclosure and the bank took the condo.
As stories like Pessler’s continue to surface around the island, and as Sauter remains at large, the hows and whys of her disappearance and the disposition of millions of dollars remain ripe for rumor at Sauter’s expense.
“It’s had a tremendous trickle-down effect,” Pessler said. “I think we’ll find out a lot of people got hurt.”

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