House flipper Romano sentenced to 9 years in prison

Josh Romano

Josh Romano, the one-time high-profile Richmond house flipper who was tried and convicted last year for embezzling more than $1 million from a lender, has been sentenced for those crimes to a term of nine years in federal prison.

The punishment was handed down Thursday morning by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Payne in front of a gallery of Romano’s supporters on one side of the courtroom and federal investigators and one of Romano’s victims on the other.

Romano requested and received approval to self-report to U.S. Marshals to begin his sentence on March 21, to allow him to be present for the expected birth of his child earlier that month.

The sentencing follows a three-day trial last fall, at which a jury found Romano guilty of four of seven counts.

The crux of his crimes involved $1.2 million in funds that were disbursed five years ago from escrow accounts for six home rehab projects without authorization of Romano’s main lender, locally based Tuckahoe Funding, run by Rhett Starke.

Prosecutors said the funds were instead put toward other projects and that Romano put some toward personal expenses, such as membership dues to Richmond Country Club and private school tuition.

Romano’s co-conspirator, Lindsey Passmore, who worked as a paralegal at S. Page Allen & Associates, the law firm that handled the escrow accounts, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was a cooperating witness in the Romano case. Passmore is set to begin a 14-month sentence next month.

Part of Romano’s defense was to attempt to focus much of the blame for the misappropriated funds on Passmore and the head of the law firm, Page Allen.

Allen, who was not charged criminally or civilly related to the saga, agreed to pay out of her own pocket more than $500,000 to Tuckahoe Funding as part of a mediated settlement with Starke. Allen also was recently reprimanded by the Virginia State Bar for not properly managing Passmore and for not properly overseeing the handling of escrow funds.

Allen was cited by Payne as ultimately one of the victims of the scandal.

A vandalized sign in front of one of the homes that was at the center of Romano’s indictment. (BizSense file photo)

Another of those victims is Starke, who provided one of the more emotional moments of the nearly two-hour hearing with a statement made to the judge.

“I feel like I need to do this for my business partners, myself and my family,” Starke told Payne.

Starke said he’s still on the hook for $600,000 in principle owed to another lender for the money Romano spent and estimated that he’ll need an additional $900,000 to wipe the debt clean along with related taxes and interest.

“These are all things I have to pay,” Starke said. “Whatever sentence Mr. Romano gets, I have incurred a life sentence because I will be paying for this the rest of my life.

“I find no joy in this today. It’s a tragedy for everyone involved,” he said.

Speaking on Romano’s behalf at Thursday’s hearing in an effort to sway the judge toward a lesser sentence were Elwood Yates III, who is Romano’s current employer at E.F. Yates Construction, and Scott Ford, a local attorney who runs Ford Richardson law firm and had previously hired Romano on real estate deals and construction projects.

Both described Romano as a hardworking man and a skilled contractor.

“I have always found him to be a person who is true to his word and a kind and big-hearted person,” Ford said.

Romano’s attorney, Vaughan Jones, described his client as a “very good craftsman but a very bad businessman.”

richmond federal courthouse

The federal courthouse in Richmond where the Passmore and Romano cases have played out. (BizSense file)

While Romano’s term of 108 months of incarceration was at the high end of the sentencing range suggested by federal authorities, Judge Payne told Romano that he was considering an even harsher prison term.

“Frankly, I considered 15 years,” Payne said during the hearing, adding that he was swayed by the fact that Romano had no prior criminal record and was otherwise known as a hardworking man who supported his family.

Still, Payne did not discount the damage done by Romano’s scheme.

“What you did, you did knowingly and intentionally, and you caused great harm,” Payne said. “You showed no remorse. In my judgment this is an exceedingly serious crime.”

Romano, when given his chance to address the court, spoke swiftly from a written statement.

“I regret that any of my actions or oversights led us here today,” he said, adding that he was raised to be honest and hardworking.

Showing that he still maintains his innocence, Romano added: “I will continue to seek and speak for the truth and pray that it’s heard.”

Romano’s sentence also includes three years of supervised release after his prison term, plus restitution of $581,000 to Starke’s firm and $550,000 to Page Allen’s law firm.

He has the right to appeal within 14 days.

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Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith
7 days ago

How the heck is he expecting the birth of a child?!! Wow

Alan Sipowitz
Alan Sipowitz
7 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

Well, you see, when two people fall in love . . .

Jenny West
Jenny West
7 days ago

It seems having him sit in prison helps No one but making him immediately repay the debts by working hard from this day forward, while on strict probation, is the smart way to go. Carjackers and violent gang bangers walk with little punishment because of social Justice, but oh no we can’t have someone mismanage funds while rehabbing all those houses, no he must go to prison for his crimes. Two tiered Justice system.

Kyle Martin
Kyle Martin
7 days ago
Reply to  Jenny West

So a criminal who stole $1.2 million deserves to go free and have the opportunity to repay his debts, but the kid who took a $15,000 Hyundai for a joy ride doesn’t deserve that opportunity and should sit in prison? You’ve certainly identified a flaw in the justice system, it’s just the exact opposite of what you think it is.

Joe fowler
Joe fowler
6 days ago
Reply to  Kyle Martin

I don’t think people realize how corrupt the prosecutors are these days especially in white collar crimes. The feds win over 95% of the time by any matrix that should not be correct. Then the prosecutors become judges (vast majority of judges were prosecutor) mis management of funds is not the same thing as stealing. And what is worse is that if he would have pled guilty even if he thinks he is innocent he would have received less than 2yrs. I hope he wins on appeal. Read 3 felonies a day for tons of horror stories of the feds… Read more »

Christopher Huff
Christopher Huff
6 days ago
Reply to  Kyle Martin

“The kid” that stole that car stole it from someone who could only afford a 15,000 car. That person needed it to go to work and take their kids to school. That person probably didn’t have full coverage insurance so when some knuckle head busts the window, peels the column,has sex in it, drives it to look for another one to steal, drives it through a store,runs it up a tree or kills someone in it or sets it on fire, the victim of the joy ride more than likely cant pay out of pocket to get it fixed! That… Read more »

Last edited 6 days ago by Christopher Huff
Ed Christina
Ed Christina
3 days ago

Holy crap you have a vivid imagination.

Kevin Gaskins
Kevin Gaskins
6 days ago
Reply to  Jenny West

I totally agree he only missmange money but a child molester gets a slap on the wrist and gets to go home and probation wild Mr. Rommon goes to jail for 9 years away from his wife and kids and new born kid on the way next Month crazy

Erin Schoenfelder
Erin Schoenfelder
7 days ago

No remorse. Still. Maybe sitting in prison will help him realize all the people he robbed and cheated. Mismanage funds? Sweet Jenny West, he was a thief. Rehabbed homes? That’s a complete stretch since most of those homeowners are still fixing the damage that he helped create. If you were on the receiving end of his con, you might not be writing this holier than thou script.

Chantal Thomas
Chantal Thomas
7 days ago

Can someone explain who this Starke person is and how they are a victim? I haven’t followed this case, but this part is interesting to me.

kay christensen
kay christensen
5 days ago
Reply to  Chantal Thomas

He was the investor who funded Romano’s real estate purchases and renovation costs. Romano basically stole these funds from him. Romano is not a good guy nor was this simple “mismanagement”. He intentionally took action to deceive and defraud many people who were involved in these projects- he harmed many people. He deserves every day of his 9 year imprisonment that he will serve.

Joy Steele
Joy Steele
4 days ago

Kay, it’s very interesting, you and “Erin” always comment on these articles under fake names and claim to know everything about this case. Why hide behind fake names if you have so much to say? It’s amazing what people can get away with on the internet these days. Don’t you have anything better to do?

Last edited 4 days ago by Joy Steele
kay christensen
kay christensen
3 days ago
Reply to  Joy Steele

Oh, I’ll get right on that, Nick… I need something to do.

Andrew Cheatham
Andrew Cheatham
2 days ago

Josh seems to have a LOT of defenders in this town who all only have one line of defense for the man. “He mismanaged funds” This is completely false. He lied, A LOT. Habitually, pathologically, for his own financially gain and ego. Beyond this individual federal case, there were dozens and dozens of subcontractors who were never paid, and dozens of home owners left holding the bag because they were promised something that was never completed. This wasn’t an accident. How do you have bills piled on your desk, people calling you everyday for payment, and then your solution is… Read more »

Last edited 2 days ago by Andrew Cheatham