Head of firm that developed Taconic Hotel indicted in Florida

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MANCHESTER — The president of the firm that developed the Taconic Hotel in Manchester Village has been indicted on federal bank fraud charges involving incidents allegedly occurring in Florida from 2006-09.

George Heaton, 73, of West Palm Beach, Fla., whose Heaton Companies developed the 87-room Manchester hotel, was one of three people indicted in late February by a federal grand jury, according to an announcement by federal prosecutors and investigators.

The indictment does not refer to any links to development of the $30 million Taconic Hotel in Manchester, which opened in December 2015 at the site of the former Village Country Inn and an adjacent property. Heaton Companies has developed numerous properties over more than four decades, in Florida and other states.

Also named in the indictment were Deborah Dentry Baggett, 54, of Greenville, Tenn., formerly of Palm Beach County, and Eric Granitur, 59, of Vero Beach, Fla., according to the press release. The nine-count indictment alleges "a conspiracy to commit bank fraud and various substantive bank fraud offenses," the release states.

The statement refers to an alleged conspiracy "to perpetrate a complex mortgage fraud scheme against various FDIC-insured lenders by concealing incentives offered and paid to buyers of condominium units at the Vero Beach Hotel and Club in Vero Beach, a luxury ocean-front condotel developed by Palm Beach County-based real estate developer George Heaton."

One of Heaton's listed attorneys in the Florida case, Jack Goldberger, of Atterbury, Goldberger & Weiss, of West Palm Beach, said Friday in an emailed statement: "Given that charges are pending Mr. Heaton cannot comment. However, we have entered a plea of not guilty and intend to take the case to trial."

According to the federal indictment and court paperwork in the case, Granitur was indicted on three counts by a federal grand jury in September, and Granitur, Heaton and Baggett were named in a superseding nine-count indictment issued Feb. 28.

According to allegations in the superseding indictment: "The defendants and their co-conspirators concealed and misrepresented the amount of seller paid incentives, including cash-to-close, cash rebates, and seller-provided cash deposits, and transferred incentive money through a Palm Beach County law firm's bank account in order to conceal the fact that the funds were coming from the seller, and not the buyer, as was required by the mortgage lenders.

The statement continues: "On several occasions, defendant Baggett took large sums of money, without permission, from the bank account of another client of her accounting business to use for deposit and down payment money for condo purchases. Defendant Baggett also forged client names on sale and purchase contracts, and provided the personal financial information of those other clients without their permission, all to give defendant Heaton's commercial lender the false impression that he had obtained actual buyers for the units, in order to maintain construction financing."

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The fraud scheme allegedly caused financial institutions to fund mortgage loans, totaling more than $20 million, prosecutors said.

The announcement of the charges was made by Wifredo Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Timothy Mowery, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Housing Finance Agent, Office of Inspector General; and George Piro, Special Agent in Charge with the FBI, Miami Division.

If convicted, according to the government's statement, the defendants face a statutory maximum term of 30 years in prison, a $1 million fine, and mandatory restitution on each count in the indictment.

The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph A. Capone.

The Taconic Hotel is managed by Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, based in San Francisco, which did not return messages seeking comment.

According to information on the Kimpton Hotels website, "Heaton Companies has a 45-year history in Florida and beyond. The company developed and owns the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa and the two restaurants there In addition to the Taconic Hotel, Heaton Companies' hotel holdings also include Eagle Mountain House in Jackson, N.H.; residential holdings in Florida include Tarpon Flats on North Hutchison Island, Old Oak Lane in Vero Beach, and Maison Matecumbe in Islamorada, Fla.

Heaton Companies worked with a local partner, Clark French, and Boston financial partner Janet Jiang of First Cambridge Capital on the Taconic Hotel project. The First Cambridge Capital website refers to the project as an EB-5 development, allowing entrepreneurs to apply for permanent residence status if they make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the U.S. First Cambridge specializes in EB-5 projects, according to its website.

The hotel was created on the site of the former Village Country Inn, which had been vacant for several years and was razed, and on an adjacent parcel.

The Manchester Journal reported that Clark paid $335,000 for the Village Country Inn site and another $210,000 for the second property, the Manchester Journal reported in July 2013.

Jim Therrien writes for the Bennington Banner and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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