MANATEE — William Cumber, named a “person of interest” in the disappearance of Holmes Beach motel owner Sabine Musil-Buehler, has been offered a 15-year prison term by prosecutors in exchange for an admission that he violated his probation, Cumber’s attorney said Tuesday.
Cumber’s court-appointed attorney, Tom Ostrander, called the offer of 15 years in prison “unacceptable,” based on the nature of the probation violations brought against his client.
If Cumber, 39, refuses the offer, a judge could sentence him to up to 30 years if he is found guilty of violating his probation for a 2005 arson conviction.
In December, Marion County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Cumber for driving with a suspended license, to which he pleaded guilty and served a 10-day sentence, Ostrander said.
The Florida Department of Corrections also revoked Cumber’s probation for getting arrested and for leaving Manatee County, according to court documents.
Ostrander said prosecutors have refused to go any lower than a 15-year sentence for the violations. “I was surprised. A suspended license charge would normally bring a short jail stop at the most,” Ostrander said. “I feel there must be something more behind this offer.”
That something more may be the disappearance of Musil-Buehler, Ostrander said.
Cumber, who was the woman’s boyfriend, is the last person to have reported seeing Musil-Buehler alive. Her estranged husband, Thomas Buehler, reported Musil-Buehler, 49, missing Nov. 6 after deputies arrested another man driving her stolen car.
Sheriff’s officials have named Cumber a suspect in her disappearance and have repeatedly questioned him.
“They may be leaning on him on the probation violations to get more cooperation from him in this other case,” Ostrander said of the prosecution’s offer in Cumber’s probation case.
Cumber has denied involvement in her disappearance.
Assistant State Attorney Tony Casoria told a judge in court Tuesday he would ask for the maximum sentence of 30 years prison should Cumber refuse the plea offer. Casoria did not return a phone call for comment on this story.
Cumber may also become involved in the prosecution of the man accused of stealing Musil-Buehler’s car, Robert Corona, who is scheduled to go on trial in March on a charge of grand theft.
On Nov. 6, sheriff’s deputies pulled Corona over near 14th Street West. He initially told detectives he knew Musil-Buehler but later changed his story, saying he never met her and had stolen her car after finding it with the keys in the ignition outside a bar on 14th Street West.
Casoria is also the prosecutor in Corona’s case and has listed Cumber as a witness.
Corona’s former public defender, Patrick Kane, asked to be removed from Corona’s case because he had represented Cumber in a handful of past criminal cases.
Kane said he did not know what Cumber’s possible testimony may be in Corona’s case, and a judge has since granted his request to be taken off the case.
Ostrander has been appointed to take over Corona’s case, but he, too, expects to be removed from the case because he represents Cumber, he said.
As the court cases play out, authorities still do not know what happened to Musil-Buehler. Sheriff Brad Steube said investigators still believe she has been killed.
Detectives have also questioned Thomas Buehler, co-owner of Haley’s Motel with his wife at the time she disappeared, but Cumber is the main “person of interest” in her disappearance, according to Steube.
Musil-Buehler’s disappearance still remains an open investigation, and Steube said detectives are awaiting a piece of evidence that may be a key to making a case against Cumber. He declined to discuss the evidence.
“When that comes back from the lab, we will sit down with everything we have and see if we have a case we can present to the state attorney,” Steube said.
Meanwhile, another investigation into a fire at Haley’s Motel two weeks after Musil-Buehler disappeared continues.
Holmes Beach police called the fire “suspicious,” and also named Cumber a “person of interest.” But no information regarding the progress of the investigation has been released.