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Former Elm City real estate mogul's Palm Beach estate up for auction

BY Natalie Missakian

3/6/2019
PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
Well-known indicted real estate mogul Robert V. Matthews' oceanfront mansion is on the auction block.
A sprawling Palm Beach mansion owned by indicted real estate mogul Robert V. Matthews, the flamboyant developer who flashed across the New Haven business scene during the 1990s and early 2000s, is on the auction block in a high-profile Florida bankruptcy case.

The 16,000-square-foot beachfront home at 101 Casa Bendita in the tony Florida locale will be sold to the highest bidder in an onsite auction on March 28 at 11 a.m., according to the court-appointed auction company handling the sale.

The minimum opening bid for the six-bedroom Mediterranean-style home, built in 2006, is $31 million, a spokesman for Florida-based Fisher Auction Company said.

The two-story mansion sits on nearly an acre and boasts 185 feet of oceanfront with expansive views of the Atlantic. Celebrity neighbors range from radio personality Howard Stern to daytime-television host Dr. Mehmet Oz and the owner of the Miami Dolphins, according to the auction company.

Its long list of amenities includes a chef's kitchen, custom wine cellar and cigar bar, theater/game room with a performing stage, library, three-car garage, 10 bathrooms and a 40-by-16-foot swimming pool.

The estate had previously been on the market for $44 million before a U.S. bankruptcy court judge in Florida sent it to auction on Feb. 1.

"The bid procedures approved by the court will allow the estate to maximize the proceeds available to pay creditors," Matthews' bankruptcy attorney, Christian Panagakos of Florida Bankruptcy Advisors, said in a statement. "In addition, with the sale being approved pursuant to Section 363 of the bankruptcy code, a buyer can have the unique opportunity to acquire the property free and clear of all liens, claims and encumbrances."

Matthews, a close friend of former Gov. John G. Rowland, was indicted last March along with his real estate attorney, Leslie Evans, on multiple charges of fraud and money laundering, according to the Connecticut U.S. Attorney's Office.

Matthews is accused of using the promise of greencards through the federal EB-5 visa program to lure Chinese and Iranian investors to his unfinished Palm House hotel and condominium project in Florida. Instead, authorities say he used the money for personal gain, including paying credit card bills and buying a yacht. Matthews and Evans have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The developer allegedly enticed the investors with wild but empty promises that celebrities like Tony Bennett and Celine Dion would be "part of the club" and that Donald Trump (who was not yet president) and former President Bill Clinton would be advisors, according to a related civil lawsuit.

Matthews and his wife, Maria (Mia) Matthews, also pleaded not guilty last September to one count each of tax evasion in connection with the alleged scam.

In New Haven, one of Matthews' best-known deals was selling the former Southern New England Telephone building at 300 George St. for $27 million in 2000 after buying it for $500,000 just three years earlier. It has since been redeveloped as a bioscience building.

Proceeds from the auction of his Palm Beach property will be used to pay creditors, including DB Private Wealth Mortgage Ltd., a Palm Beach mortgage lender which says it is owed nearly $28 million, according to the Palm Beach Daily News.

"Given its ideal location, we are confident this estate will draw significant attention from many prospective buyers around the world," said Lamar Fisher, president and CEO of Fisher Auction, whose roster of high-profile auctions includes the sale of murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace's mansion in Miami.

Potential bidders must prequalify and wire an escrow deposit of $1 million at least two days before the auction date. More information can be found on Fisher Auction's website.

Meanwhile, Matthews' criminal case is scheduled for trial July 8 in federal court in Bridgeport, said Tom Carson, spokesman for the Connecticut U.S. Attorney's Office.

Contact Natalie Missakian at news@newhavenbiz.com