September 4, 2018

Charges mount against '90s Elm City real estate mogul Robert Matthews

PHOTO | COURTESY OF PALM BEACH DAILY NEWS
PHOTO | COURTESY OF PALM BEACH DAILY NEWS
Robert V. Matthews

Legal troubles are mounting for real estate developer and former New Haven golden boy Robert V. Matthews, who was charged in an alleged real estate scam in Palm Beach, Fla. last March.

Matthews, 60, and his wife, Maria "Mia" Matthews, 48, each pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning to charges of tax evasion in connection with the alleged scam, Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham's Office said.

Matthews is accused of using the promise of green cards to defraud wealthy Chinese and Iranian investors out of millions.

A federal grand jury on Friday added one count of tax evasion to a 20-count indictment handed down against Matthews in March charging him with fraud and money laundering. Matthews had previously pleaded not guilty to the earlier charges; his wife was not charged in the initial indictment.

The couple was arraigned Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert M. Spector in New Haven. Matthews' attorney, David A. Ring, declined to comment.

Once a major player in New Haven's business scene and a close friend of former Gov. John G. Rowland, Matthews, along with real estate attorney Leslie Evans, 71, was arrested in March for allegedly using the federal EB-5 visa program to lure foreign investors to his Palm House Hotel project in Florida.

The visas give foreigners and their families the right to live in the United States for an investment of at least $500,000 that creates a minimum of 10 jobs.

To entice the investors, Matthews made wild but empty promises that celebrities like Celine Dion, Tony Bennett and others would be "part of the club" and that President Donald Trump, who was not yet president, and former President Bill Clinton would be advisors, according to a release from Durham's office and a related civil lawsuit filed in 2016.

Instead of using the funds for the project, Matthews allegedly diverted them to pay credit card bills and buy a 151-foot yacht and two properties in Washington Depot, including one Matthews had previously lost in foreclosure, according to the indictment.

The newest indictment alleges that between 2009 and March 2017, Matthews and his wife evaded paying federal income tax they owed for 2005 and 2007 by using limited liability companies, a company bank account and an "interest on trust account" (IOTA) administered by Evans to pay personal expenses.

Additionally, the couple, who have homes in Connecticut and Florida, allegedly sold a Mercedes for $82,000 in Sept. 2016 and then wired the proceeds to the IOTA after being notified that the IRS would seize their assets if they failed to pay their delinquent taxes.

Robert Matthews faces spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted of all charges, including up to five years on the tax evasion charge.

Matthews' brother Gerry Matthews, 57, of Middlebury, and New Haven native and businessman Nicholas Laudano, 48, of Boynton Beach, Fla. were also charged in March in connection with the case.

Both Matthews and his wife are free on bond pending the trial, which is set to begin Nov. 5.

Read a previous New Haven Biz story about the Matthews case here.

Reach Natalie Missakian at news@newhavenbiz.com

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