PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A former developer of the Hotel Pere Marquette pleaded guilty to hiding assets during a bankruptcy proceeding involving the hotel and its developers.
Monte Brannan’s Attorney, Peter Lynch, told Chief U.S. District Judge Sara Darrow that his client would enter a “blind” plea — one without any agreement as to a sentence — to three of 21 counts against him.
Brannan admitted he didn’t tell creditors about a 2003 Dodge Viper that was titled in his name. Nor did he tell them about $80,000 he transferred to his ex-wife three weeks prior to filing his Chapter 11 petition.
And he didn’t disclose he was getting money from a boutique in the area he had invested $100,000 in years earlier.
And by pleading guilty to three counts of concealing assets from a bankruptcy proceeding, Brannan is now a convicted felon who faces up to five years in prison on each count. However, Lynch told the judge that after reviewing the sentencing guidelines, it appears the high end for Brannan would be around two years behind bars.
Ironically, the pleas came in a first-floor courtroom at Peoria’s federal courthouse that is caddy-corner from the room where bankruptcy hearings are heard. The entire building is directly across the street from the hotels involved in the fraud case.
That plea came after more than four hours of testimony from Peoria’s City Manager Patrick Urich who took jurors down back in time to explain how City Hall viewed the deal in the years prior to and after the Pere Marquette and its companion, the Marriott Courtyard, opened in 2013.
Brannan answered yes and no to Darrow’s questions regarding the plea to charges, in which he was alleged to have hidden money and a car from creditors while the hotel was in bankruptcy proceedings.
Still left for Brannan and his codefendant, Gary Matthews, are charges of money laundering and mail fraud. The charges allege the two took more than $800,000 from the hotel and diverted it to themselves after the hotel went into foreclosure. They are also accused of taking $1.6 million from the hotel bank account.
Urich took the stand at the end of the second week of testimony in the two men’s federal trial, which is being held at Peoria’s federal courthouse. It’s rare but not unheard of for a person to plead to some or all the allegations against him during a trial.
Both Matthews and Brannan have vehemently denied the fraud charges and in 2019, the two sued City Hall, alleging it was them, not the city or taxpayers, who were harmed by the hotel’s problems. That suit has since been dismissed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas F. McMeyer used old video footage from council meetings, recordings, minutes and memos to show City Hall’s worry about the project and the need to protect taxpayers.
Despite projections, “due diligence,” and multiple attorneys and people well versed in public-private partnerships, the hotel project, once seen as a way to revitalize Downtown and help fill city coffers, became an albatross around the city’s neck.
Urich estimated taxpayers are so far on the hook for at least a $7 million loan to developers which hasn’t been repaid and also about $5 million in losses from a $29 million in bonds which the council and city leaders thought would be prepaid in whole by taxes generated from the $100 million project.
For years, residents have ripped the hotel deal as an example of city government making mistakes, but through Urich’s testimony, it was clear that city officials had their doubts in Matthews’ ability to “do it or don’t” relatively early in the process and certainly before the bonds were issued. Yet, the desire to have a new 4-star hotel that would be connected to the Peoria Civic Center was seen as a must-have for Peoria.
The city manager testified repeatedly that several changes in the legal agreements were done to “put the city in a more secure position,” which means that taxpayers wouldn’t be as much at risk. They asked for consolidated financial statements from all the corporations, the two men had to make sure the money wasn’t being funneled improperly back to the developers who were barred from getting paid until the city was paid back
The amount of the bonds was reduced from $36 million to $29 million. The loan was included as it was seen as a more secure investment as it would be repaid by the developers, and not dependent upon the economics of the hotel industry.
The hotels opened in 2013 to much fanfare but by then, the gleaming glass high-rise was gone and questions had arisen about the fiscal health of the hotels. City Hall, however, was still hopeful, at the time, that both the Pere and the accompanying Courtyard by Marriott, would help reinvigorate Downtown and also give city coffers a bit of a boost.
That didn’t happen and by 2016, Marriott was thinking about pulling their affiliation with the hotels due to Mathews being behind on his payments to the hotel giant.
It’s alleged around this time that both Brannan and Mathews were siphoning off money from the hotel for their personal use.
Both men could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the fraud charges, though that’s unlikely due to their ages. The trial is expected to last through Nov. 9.