A federal judge delayed the criminal trial of Palm House developer Robert Matthews, his wife and a real estate attorney until next summer. All three defendants, who are free on bond, face charges related to the unfinished Palm House hotel-condominium project in Palm Beach.
Judge Victor A. Bolden of the U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut, said in an order that he delayed the start of jury selection until July 8, 2019 to give the defendants more time “to continue plea negotiations.”
Jury selection for the trial had been scheduled to start yesterday. Matthews and real estate attorney Leslie R. Evans are charged in a 20-count indictment with a variety of conspiracy, bank fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering charges. Matthews and his wife Mia have been charged with tax evasion. All three defendants will be tried together.
Federal prosecutors have charged Matthews and Evans with running a scheme to defraud foreign investors out of money intended to fund the construction of the Palm House project in Palm Beach. According to prosecutors, a key issue in the case is how money was wired between accounts in Florida and Connecticut.
Two others have also been charged in connection with the Palm House project: Matthews' brother Gerry and Nicholas Laudano, a Palm Beach building contractor who owns pizza parlors in Florida and Connecticut. Both have pleaded guilty in recent days, Gerry Matthews to a fraud charge and Laudano to charges of fraud and an illegal financial transaction, and are expected to testify as government witnesses if there is a trial.
The indictment asserts that Matthews and the others used a federal visa program known as the EB-5 program to lure foreign investment to the Palm House project. Under the EB-5 program, foreign nationals can obtain U.S. residency visas by making substantial investments in qualified U.S. development projects that create jobs. About 60 investors from China and Iran made threshold investments of $500,000.
The SEC has also brought civil charges against Matthews in a separate Palm House-related case in the Southern District of Florida focusing on how millions of dollars of investor money was spent. Among other things, Matthews is accused of using investor money for the down payment on a 151-foot yacht. Trial is scheduled in the civil case for April 22, 2019, but may be continued to December 19, 2019.