The lavish tropical fantasies that Robert Alan Berry peddled to Houston investors came to an end Wednesday as the real estate con man was sentenced to spend the next 10 months in federal prison.
Berry, 64, had roots in Calistoga and Spain, and currently lives in the Seattle area.
Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal sentenced him to prison plus three years of supervised release for a scam that cost investors over $1.9 million stemming from misrepresentations and double dealing.
Berry is free on bond and agreed to voluntarily surrender to authorities. He pleaded guilty on June 23 to money laundering charges.
Philip Gallagher, Berry’s lawyer from the federal public defenders office, declined to comment.
According to court documents, his international real estate scam involved beachfront properties on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. In 1998, Berry co-founded Pelican Eyes Piedras y Olas S.A. (PEPO), a hotel and resort in the beachside town of San Juan del Sur. He built it up over the next 10 years, but it began to decline in profitability, according to documents.
Investors in the Houston area and in other U.S. cities and overseas handed over about $31 million to PEPO and Berry built more than 60 units in two phases of development. But he ultimately sold more units to investors than he could afford to build.
He got creative to keep the money flowing, resorted to fraud and lying to investors and lenders in order to land millions of dollars in investment funds and loans.
According to his plea, he sold the same unit to more than one buyer, sometimes for a higher price the second time. He also used already sold units as collateral for bank loans and sold units already pledged as collateral, resulting in the buyer’s losing the property when the banks foreclosed.
One unit in 2006 sold for $265,000 to the initial buyer. Berry sold it a second time for $325,000, according to court documents.
In October 2009, PEPO collapsed financially. Berry fled to Nicaragua and then to Spain. Lenders foreclosed and the resort was sold to new owners.
Berry was arrested Oct. 24, 2014 by Interpol and Spanish authorities and extradited to Houston on Feb. 6, 2015.
The total loss from double dealing and misrepresentations was $1,955,528.