Lucy Morgan, a Pulitzer Prize winner for investigative reporting at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, recently turned her eye on a development in the Big Ridge area of WNC’s Jackson County. The county has long been a popular vacation and investment spot for Floridians.
In a Times story, “Florida Man’s Mountain Deals in N.C. Are a Mystery,” published July 20, Morgan reports that Miami resident Domenic Rabuffo bought a house in Jackson County four years ago and has since been buying land — “often overpaying, according to prices stated when the deeds were recorded.” One house built on 14 acres in 1972, according to Morgan, was purchased by Rabuffo for $1.6 million, although the tax-roll value was $162,800.
According to the report, Rabuffo is developing an area on Big Ridge — between Tuckasegee and Cashiers — into Blue Ridge Mountain Estates, a gated assemblage of villas, a clubhouse, a spa and houses ranging from 4,000 to 12,000 square feet on 1-acre parcels atop Big Ridge. The development’s sale of undeveloped lots there for $650,000 an acre has raised eyebrows in an area where normal prices are closer to $50,000.
Morgan’s story also reports on Rabuffo’s former life in New York, where some years ago he pleaded guilty in a $49-million mortgage-fraud case and served a brief prison sentence. She continues with details on his Jackson County investors, the mortgage banks involved, and a list of liens and settlements regarding the Big Ridge property, where 14 houses are currently in various stages of development.
— Nelda Holder, associate editor