Local man faces tax evasion sentencing
Pembroke Gochnauer was on the brink of losing it all. Health and money problems left him desperate.
Then he found a way out. A drug dealer with lots of cash was looking for someone well-connected on the South Shore to help him hide that money.
What Gochnauer didn’t know was that the drug dealer was an FBI informant.
Now Gochnauer, 55, a real estate agent for Aspen Realty and former chairman of the South Tahoe Public Utility District faces sentencing on a charge of tax evasion.
The charge stems from a money laundering scheme that included Mahesh “Mark” Patel, 38, former owner of Secrets Motel, and Scott MacDonald, 38, owner and operator of Chateau Suites Motel. The three pleaded guilty to trying to evade reporting $500,000 in cash from the sale of Patel’s motel, Secrets. They will be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Sacramento on Monday.
While Gochnauer was unable to discuss the case specifically, he admitted to financial problems that began in 1995, the year his business partner died. Gochnauer declared bankruptcy, and as a result of an Internal Revenue Service settlement, he lost his family’s nest egg.
His financial outlook became grimmer when, in 1997, Gochnauer began to suffer from health problems, including skin cancer.
Appendicitis almost cost him his life in January 1999. “I very nearly died in the hospital,” Gochnauer said.
He was down, said Duane Wallace, longtime friend and executive director for the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, and the FBI caught him at a vulnerable time.
“I know he was under significant financial stress”, said David Kurtzman, owner of Aspen Reality, where Gochnauer worked for 15 years.
Kurtzman, who had no idea of the illegal deal or the charges against Gochnauer until about a week ago when Gochnauer told him, said he had never had a complaint from a client against Gochnauer, nor had there been any problems with Gochnauer on financial transactions.
“He has been in the past a willing volunteer and a good citizen,” said Pete MacRoberts, former president of the lodging association. “I was shocked by what I read (in the Tribune).”
Gochnauer, a Berkeley, Calif., native, has racked up a long list of community contributions since his arrival 22 years ago. He was a founding member of the South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association, which began in 1989, and he served as the organization’s liaison to the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce until a few years ago.
He worked on zoning changes that allowed for new buildings to replace dilapidated motels. Gochnauer was a County Airport Commissioner from 1989 to ’92.
He also served as a board member for the South Tahoe Utility District for three years. He served as chairman for the district since December, but resigned last Tuesday, citing personal commitments.
Gochnauer was a part of the Golden Bear Park recreation plan, the first attempt to create more recreational opportunities. The plan was never launched but it set the course for Measure S, the $6 million bond measure that passed in November 2000 and will create more ballfields and an ice rink.
Gochnauer was a key player in creating the South Shore recreation plan for Measure S, said John Upton, a consultant for the project.
“I think he is a very fine person,” Upton said. “I think for whatever reason, he got caught in a difficult situation.”
Gochnauer is married and has three teen-age children, two of whom are from his wife’s previous marriage.
“My loving wife of 14 years is very supportive,” he said.
Ed McCarthy, a member of the lodging association said: “I thought he was very ethical, and I had high regard for him all along the way. I am really shattered and chagrined by this new development. I consider him
Others echoed MaCarthy’s surprise.
“I just feel horrible about it,” said Wallace, who considers Gochnauer a close friend.
“I am deeply concerned for how this whole thing will impact his family and the real estate community in general,”said Kurtzman.
Gochnauer faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
However, through a plea agreement, he will probably face little to no jail time and $2,500 in fines. He also may lose his real estate license.
“My day-to-day has been filled with my phone ringing with an outpouring of love and support from my friends,” Gochnauer said. “I am humbled and overwhelmed by the true friendship that I have felt in this community.”
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.