Developer Matthew Greer, the scion of a wealthy Miami-Dade family who once headed the state's biggest affordable housing firm, admitted a year ago that he stole $16 million from a federal program that helps finance the construction of rental apartments for poor people.
The former CEO of Carlisle Development Group apologized on Wednesday to a federal judge for his wrongdoing and for “casting a cloud” over an affordable-housing industry whose mission is to build homes for society’s most needy.
“It pains me very deeply,” Greer, 38, said, choking up during his statement to the judge.
Yet his high-profile defense attorney, Roy Black, argued that Greer deserved no prison time because he pleaded guilty, cooperated with authorities, paid back the stolen money and has devoted his life to charity — including his latest effort to help a nonprofit group develop an Overtown housing complex for homeless mothers and their children.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Black touted the South Florida housing projects built by Carlisle with tax credits issued by the U.S. government, while downplaying that Greer and others involved in his partnerships inflated the construction costs so they could split millions in illegal profits.
“I think the public got what they paid for,” Black told U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro. “They were not cheated.”
But Ungaro corrected him, saying the government tax-credit program was robbed of millions in the Greer-led scheme, money that could have been used for other affordable-housing developments for low-income people.
Prosecutor Michael Sherwin hammered that point, saying Greer was driven by “greed,” not charity, and that he “lost his way.”
“This was a lie for money,” Sherwin said.
The federal sentencing guidelines for Greer’s offense range from eight to ten years in the $34 million housing fraud probe that disgraced the one-time CEO and his Miami-based company, Carlisle, which was started by his father, lawyer Bruce Greer, two decades ago. Bruce Greer and his wife, Evelyn, a lawyer who once served as mayor of Pinecrest and on the Miami-Dade school board, attended the hearing.
On Wednesday, the prosecutor recommended that the judge start at eight years and then reduce it by 40 percent for Greer’s assistance in the long-running FBI and IRS investigation — for a total sentence of about five years.
Ungaro said she would issue her decision on Greer’s sentence along with punishment for five other co-defendants on Monday, after hearing arguments from defense attorneys and prosecutors.
Last year, the U.S. attorney’s office filed fraud charges accusing Greer and Carlisle founder Lloyd Boggio of conspiring with Biscayne Housing Group's co-founders Michael Cox and Gonzalo DeRamon, as well as with Fort Lauderdale contractor Michael Runyan and South Florida contractors Rene Sierra and Arturo Hevia.
Collectively, the four developers stole more than $34 million in federal housing subsidies — tax credits sold to investors — by inflating construction costs and receiving kickbacks, according to the charges. The three contractors, who paid the kickbacks, kept a portion of that money, too. Like Greer, Cox, DeRamon, Runyan, Sierra and Hevia pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy charges and are also cooperating witnesses.
Boggio, 70, planned to go to trial in September but changed his mind at the last minute and pleaded guilty. He is scheduled for sentencing in December and is expected to receive seven years in prison.
In total, prosecutors say, Greer, Boggio and the other defendants plundered tax credits to line their pockets from 14 government-subsidized projects built for the poor in Miami-Dade. All but one were built in Brownsville, Little Haiti and Overtown between 2007 and 2012. Greer and Boggio set up shell companies to collect illicit payments secretly, according to Sherwin and fellow prosecutor Michael Berger.
In court papers, Cox, a longtime Miami developer of affordable housing, admitted his criminal misconduct but blamed Greer in particular for pressuring him and others to go along with the scheme of inflating the construction costs so their joint projects could qualify for higher tax credits and ultimately fatter development profits and fees.
“In fact ... [Greer] held Mr. Cox in particularly low-esteem for his insistence that costs and bids submitted to [a state housing agency] be carefully scrutinized for accuracy, derisively labeling him as the ‘Boy Scout’ and actively taking steps to conceal from [Cox] the true nature of the... schemes they had perpetuated over the years,” according to a memo filed by Cox’s lawyers.
In the end, the judge will have to compare the severity of the defendants’ crimes and the degree of their assistance to prosecutors in fashioning their punishment. Ungaro also said in court on Wednesday that “deterrence” would be an important factor in her calculation to prevent such abuse of the federal tax-credit program from happening again.
Sherwin, the prosecutor, told her: “The program has been abused for decades.”