[Editor's note: The writer, who is critical of the EB-5 (immigrant investor) program, has dim views of many charter school operators, and thinks he has a reasonably good imagination, says that he could not possibly conjure up something equal to this true story.]
A guilty-pleading EB-5 fraudster has just sold his $30.2 million waterfront mansion in Palm Beach to a man and wife who run an (apparently successful) charter school business, according to the Real Deal, a sprightly trade paper.
A remarkable bit of bad press for two questionable programs, all wrapped up in a single sentence!
You might think that if you had scammed multi-millions out of a set of investors, you would try to avoid attention and settle for a modest, say, $5 million mansion. You might think, similarly, had you secured substantial profits from public schools' funds, as some charter operators do, you might try to avoid flaunting your wealth by buying a spectacular house from a rich crook.
Neither of the principals in this deal thought that way. Here's the lede in the Real Deal:
"Just a few years ago, Palm Beach’s high society packed the sprawling waterfront estate at 101 Casa Bendita [apparently an elegant address] to attend galas and charity events hosted by the town’s hotshot developer Robert Matthews.
"But the mansion has remained empty since Matthews was convicted in a federal court of defrauding foreign EB-5 investors in a failed Palm Beach condo-hotel project known as the Palm House Hotel. And on Friday [July 12] Matthews and his wife's former estate sold for $30.2 million to Vahan and Danielle Gureghian, a couple who run a charter school business."
The article called him a "real life Jay Gatsby," the anti-hero of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel on the excesses of the nineteen twenties.
We reported on the scam more than two and a half years ago, noting that Matthews had used photos of himself with both President Clinton and (separately) with soon-to-be President Trump to impress potential EB-5 investors. Some of the money raised was used to buy a 151-foot yacht. The investors said that they had lost more than $50 million.
As to the Gureghians, they seem to manage 150 charter schools around the country. He is reported to have donated heavily to political campaigns, and is noted in one story as having "pumped $336,000 into the campaign of former Gov. Tom Corbett [R-PA] making him [Gureghian] his second largest individual donor over his gubernatorial career. We could not tell immediately if any of their schools used EB-5 funding, as many other charters do.
While we are on the subject of mansions, one might imagine, as I did, that Gureghians were moving up when they spent more than $30 million for the place in Palm Beach. Not so. According to the Real Deal article they just sold, for over $40 million, another mansion in Palm Beach, with that one having double ocean-front lots and 242 feet of beach.
Maybe the charter school business is not so profitable after all.