Ex-millionaire who had ties to corrupt politicians gets 5-plus years in prison for real estate fraud

31 July 2023

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — A one-time millionaire real estate developer with past ties to corrupt Connecticut politicians was sentenced to more than five years in prison on Monday for fraud involving a failed hotel-condominium project in Florida and properties elsewhere.

Robert Matthews requested a prison sentence of no more than 27 months, but instead got 65 months from Judge Victor Bolden during a hearing in federal court in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Prosecutors said Matthews, of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and formerly of the Connecticut town of Washington, scammed foreign investors out of millions of dollars from 2012 to 2018 while trying to develop the Palm House Hotel in Palm Beach. More than 60 investors contributed at least $500,000 apiece, officials said.

Matthews made attractive but false assertions that celebrities and politicians — including former Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton — would be involved in the project, authorities said. Matthews and his co-defendants used investors’ money to buy a yacht, open restaurants and pay off loans, among other personal expenses, prosecutors said.

During Monday’s court hearing, Matthews apologized to those he defrauded and admitted he used investors’ money to maintain his wealthy lifestyle, Hearst Connecticut Media reported.

According to court documents, Matthews went broke after having overseen multimillion-dollar real estate projects, largely because of the 2008 real estate market crash. He had a 12,000-square-foot (1,115-square-meter) mansion in Palm Beach, a 150-foot (45-meter) yacht and an island vacation home in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

Matthews pleaded guilty in 2019 to conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, making illegal monetary transactions and tax evasion. Three co-defendants in the case, including his ex-wife and brother, also have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

Prosecutors said the fraud also involved properties in Connecticut and Nantucket.

Law enforcement officials previously showed interest in Matthews in connection with two corrupt Connecticut politicians, but Matthews wasn’t charged in either case.

In a 2004 criminal case, a defendant who pleaded guilty said he was the front man for Matthews when Matthews bought a Washington, D.C., condo from former Gov. John Rowland for more than twice the going rate. Rowland resigned in 2004 amid a corruption scandal that sent him to prison.

In the early 1990s, authorities questioned Matthews about a $25,000 payment to Waterbury Mayor Joseph Santopietro, who also was convicted of corruption and served prison time.

In 2000, Matthews and an antiques dealer obtained an original copy of the Bill of Rights that was stolen from North Carolina’s Capitol at the close of the Civil War, possibly by a Union soldier. The document was returned to North Carolina after the FBI seized it during a sting and Matthews lost a lawsuit in a bid to keep it.

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