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Federal jury finds former Lighthouse Inn operator guilty in investment fraud scheme

By Karen Florin

Publication: theday.com

Published July 12. 2012 12:00PM   Updated July 13. 2012 12:02AM

A federal jury has found former Lighthouse Inn operator Maureen Clark guilty of fraudulently obtaining more than $1.7 million in a scheme to build a resort and casino in Lakeshore, Miss.

The jury in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport deliberated for less than two days before finding Clark, 58, of Stonington guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 13 counts of wire fraud and six counts of money laundering. The jury found her not guilty of one count of wire fraud.

She faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each count of conspiracy and wire fraud and a maximum of 10 years on each count of money laundering. She remains free until sentencing, which is expected to take place in October.

Her business partner, Christopher Plummer, pleaded guilty in January and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 31.

According to the government, Clark and Plummer held themselves out as authorized members of New England Resorts LLC and falsely represented to investors that they owned or controlled hundreds of acres of land in a Mississippi town. They said they had invested several hundred millions of their own and would be building a 2-million-square-foot resort with a casino, hotels, condominiums and a medical facility.

In soliciting funds for the project, Clark and Plummer falsely represented that major Wall Street firms had committed to the project, according to the government. Clark said she was getting finances from overseas sources, including nearly $1 billion from an international corporation called Africa-Israel Investments.

The government calculated Clark spent $900,000 of the investor funds on the financially troubled Lighthouse Inn, a New London restaurant and hotel that has since been foreclosed.

At the trial before Judge Warren W. Eginton, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael S. McGarry and Richard J. Schechter called investors who described a sales pitch that involved building a resort that would help revive a region that had been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. A number of the victims said they met with Clark and Plummer at the Lighthouse Inn, were told about the project and were convinced to invest their money.

Defense attorneys Hubert J. Santos and Jessica M. Santos maintained that the project was legitimate and put Clark on the witness stand last week to tell her story.

Hubert Santos said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon that Clark would be appealing.

"She never really set out to hurt anybody," said Santos. "The day she was arrested, she was working on the project."

Clark had options to purchase 370 acres in Lakeshore and was working hard to find financing for the project when the economy collapsed, Santos said. He said Clark never profited from the deal. She sent $500,000 to Mississippi to secure the options, he said, and other money went into the Lighthouse Inn, where she was just a 10 percent owner.

Had the project gone forward, "These people would have called her one of the greatest commercial developers in the history of America," Santos said.

Michael Abromowitz, whose Ohio family invested $250,000 in the project, said in an email that the Abromowitz family is "extremely happy with the verdict."

"We feel after years of hell and false promises that justice has been done," Abromowitz wrote. "With Ms. Clark locked up, we can rest easy knowing that no one else will fall victim to her."

Clark's partner, Plummer, pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Plummer, 50, has been held in federal custody since he was arrested Nov. 29, 2010. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison when J. Eginton sentences him next month. He faces a fine of up to $250,000 and will be required to repay the victims of the scheme.

As part of his plea agreement, Plummer also agreed to forfeit his interest in a 4.35-acre parcel in Stonington, a car and funds that were seized during the investigation.

k.florin@theday.com

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