PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The former developers of the Hotel Pere Marquette have been found guilty of fraud and money laundering in connection with the redevelopment of the city’s oldest hotel.
Monte Brannan and Gary Matthews had faced charges of money laundering and mail fraud, felonies that could send them to prison for up to 20 years.
Such a harsh sentence isn’t likely given the men’s ages — both are in their late 70s or earlier 80s — but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to see them spend some time in custody.
Chief U.S. District Judge Sara Darrow will make that final determination at their hearing, which is likely to occur early next year.
Jurors deliberated for about six or seven hours over two days before finding them guilty of more than a dozen counts. Matthews was acquitted of one money laundering charge but was convicted of others.
The city of Peoria noted in an emailed statement that “the jury recognized that the taxpayers, the City of Peoria, senior lenders, and the Marriott Corporation were victims of Matthews’ and Brannan’s crimes.”
City Hall further noted the “Hotel Pere Marquette is an important landmark of our community, a critical necessity for downtown amenities, and an economic driver to attract conferences, events, and visitors to Peoria. Downtown development, as evidenced in our latest strategic plan, continues to be an ongoing focus. With new owners in place, the City is working to ensure that the future of the Hotel Pere Marquette is sustainable and economically successful.”
The convictions for Brannan are in addition to the charges he pleaded guilty to last week. Last Friday, Brannan admitted he hid assets during a bankruptcy proceeding involving the hotel and its developers.
Brannan’s Attorney, Peter Lynch, told Darrow on Oct. 27, that his client would enter a “blind” plea — one without any agreement as to a sentence — to the three counts.
In doing so, 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.
The convictions appear to close the circle on a fiscal and public relations mess which City Hall has faced for more than a decade.
The trial, which began in mid-October, had city officials take the stand and take jurors back in time to explain how Peoria viewed the deal in the years prior to and after the Pere Marquette and its companion, the Marriott Courtyard, opened in 2013.
The charges stated the two took more than $800,000 from the hotel and diverted it to themselves after the hotel went into foreclosure. They were also accused of taking $1.6 million from the hotel bank account.
City officials have 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.
During the trial, former Mayor Jim Ardis told jurors that he and others on the city council were always looking for a way to reinvest and revitalize the Downtown area, which had fallen on hard times.
Retail had moved out over the years. So had office space and the hope was a redone Pere Marquette, accompanied by another “high-end” hotel and new retail space, would give the area a shot in the arm.
This story will be updated.