PORTLAND, Maine — Peter DiRosa, former mayor of Manchester, Conn., was described in court Thursday afternoon as a one-time congressional hopeful who became obsessed with launching a Hungarian resort as a way to reclaim his past stature and who used the retirement savings of a Kennebunk man to pursue the ultimately failed scheme.

DiRosa, 66, still of Manchester, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge George Z. Singal to 57 months — four years and nine months — in prison on fraud charges and ordered to pay the now 81-year-old retiree back the $540,000 he convinced the victim to invest in the project.

DiRosa, who wore a dark suit to the Thursday afternoon hearing, was ordered to report for his sentence at 2 p.m. June 19 at a federal facility to be determined, but which Singal agreed should be “as close as possible to Manchester, Conn.”

During the sentencing hearing in the federal courthouse in Portland, several of DiRosa’s friends and colleagues spoke about his character, his background as a high school teacher and successful business owner, his active role in his church community and his time in public service.

But Singal chose a sentence closer to the 71-month prison term recommended by prosecutor Craig Wolff from the U.S. attorney’s office than the 30-day incarceration with 14 months of home detention sought by defense attorney William Maselli.

“It’s certainly a puzzle how people who knew Mr. DiRosa for so many years had one view of him, while the jury in this case, after hearing the evidence, had a very different view,” Singal said. “I think what happened here was Mr. DiRosa became obsessed. He felt like this project would make him more than what he was.”

The victim’s son told the judge during the hearing that the stress caused by DiRosa’s “trickery” forced both his mother and father to seek medical treatment.

“My father was enjoying his retirement,” the adult son of the victim, flanked by his parents at the lectern, told the court. “He had worked hard, he had saved his money and had earned the right to live without wondering how he was going to pay his bills.

“Every time I saw him [after losing his money] it seemed he was aging faster and faster,” he continued. “Mr. DiRosa’s fraud took a tremendous physical toll on my father.”

DiRosa told the elderly man he could expect a profit of $400,000 in six months and an additional $39,000 to cover lost income from his annuities after investing $600,000 in the project up front in 2008, according to trial briefs filed in federal court in Portland.

In September and October 2008, a total of about $225,000 was wired to a Connecticut bank account in DiRosa’s wife’s name from a bank in Austria, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

DiRosa’s wife has not been charged.

Wolff acknowledged before the court Thursday that the proposed resort development may have at one point been an honest pursuit by DiRosa, but that when the plan unraveled, the former Connecticut mayor made things worse by lying about progress and claiming the paybacks would still be coming.

“Nobody’s saying this was a scam from the start, that this was a ‘Nigerian scheme’ where there was never anything at the other end of the line,” Wolff said. “But [DiRosa] made falsehood after falsehood about the project being funded, that the project was ready.”

Singal said Thursday that DiRosa perjured himself during the two-day jury trial that took place in January when he continued to maintain under oath that high-profile backers and contractors supported the project, and that he believed he could turn a $600,000 investment into a $1 million payback in six months or less.

“They were all fantasies,” Singal said. “They may exist, these people, but none of them did anything with this project. … I’m not convinced at this point Mr. DiRosa feels remorse. I think he is still drinking the Kool-Aid.”

DiRosa, when given an opportunity to address the court, urged the judge not to give him a lengthy prison sentence so he could spend more time trying to recoup the victim’s losses. He also added that he cares for his disabled wife, does errands for his 97-year-old mother-in-law and manages the affairs of his 95-year-old father.

Those who testified on DiRosa’s behalf Thursday afternoon described him as an honest man who was optimistic to a fault and who never intended to lose the victim’s money on the project.

“I think Peter is extremely optimistic, he perseveres and he tries to make things happen,” said Frank Russo, a friend of nearly 50 years who said he met DiRosa at St. Michael’s College.

Portland native Joseph Hachey, who relocated to Connecticut and met DiRosa there, said DiRosa was once being talked about as a possible candidate for Congress.

“I think he wanted to be in a position again where he could be important,” Hachey said of the resort development plan. “I can easily see him convincing himself that he could double somebody’s money like that.”

BDN staff reporter Judy Harrison contributed to this story.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.