Where’s the money? Government investigating Fort Myers entrepreneur
According to records obtained by WINK News, a young Southwest Florida entrepreneur who made headlines in 2017 with his plans to develop a rundown office complex is now the subject of a government investigation.
Florida’s Office of Financial regulation received at least two complaints against Matt Hurley, a 24-year-old who graduated from Cypress Lake High School who describes himself as an investor, entrepreneur, and political hack on his social media profiles.
One complainant claimed to invest $400,000 with Hurley’s company Youngbloods, Inc under the premise that it would pay an eight percent dividend. But then, the complainant was never able to redeem shares or reach Hurley by phone or certified mail. OFR said another complaint was considered exempt from public records because it was part of an ongoing investigation.
In March, OFR said in a letter to a complainant it would not be opening its own investigation into Hurley or his company because another government agency already had a case file.
“Typically, what you see the government do is they’re going to follow the money. If money was given to him for one purpose and then diverted elsewhere, those are going to be more indicative of criminal fraud,” said Davis Haas, a former US Attorney for Florida’s middle district who prosecuted economic crimes. He is not connected to the investigation against Hurley.
Haas reviewed the allegations against Hurley documented in several lawsuits and said typically, the SEC or the FBI would lead an investigation into that type of case. As of publication, no criminal charges have been filed against Hurley.
The WINK News investigative team found court records that show Matt Hurley owes at least $2 million in civil judgments and other pending lawsuits seeking nearly $1 million in damages.
The lawsuits stretch from Florida to North Carolina and involve everything from real estate development and racecar teams to cryptocurrency and political consulting.
“The only way we are going to get the money, he is going to have to rob Peter to pay Paul, it seems like,” said Shane Lee, a former NASCAR driver from the Charlotte area, whose family invested more than a million dollars with Hurley.
He planned to redevelop the Atrium Executive Center complex at the southwest corner of College Parkway and Winkler Road in south Fort Myers, calling it the “H2 Innovation Center,” but then he never paid more than $200,000 in rent.
The Atrium owners were awarded a judgment against Hurley in 2019, totaling nearly $450,000 for unpaid rent, late fees, and attorney’s costs.
“I never believed his story,” said Gloria Jordan, a restaurateur who owned the Mermaid Cafe inside the Atrium. Hurley canceled Jordan’s lease and other long-time tenants of the building when he took over management of the complex. She sued Hurley for breaking her lease and said, to date, she’s only collected a portion of what he owes her.
By the time the Atrium deal went bust, Hurley was already off to the races in North Carolina, starting up “H2 Motorsports.”
Lee said Hurley sold himself as a tech-guru who had sold his company. He entered into promissory agreements with Lee’s family where they would loan him $1.5 million to start up a racing team, and then they’d be paid back once sponsorships came through. Lee was the driver for the team.
“We made five or six races into it before stuff started blowing up. The bills weren’t getting paid. Some of the race cars hadn’t been paid for,” said Lee.
Hurley then terminated Lee from the team, citing poor performance. And according to Lee, Hurley hadn’t paid him the full terms of his contract as a driver. Lee, his father, and an LLC associated with the family was awarded a judgment totaling more than $1.74 million in late 2019.
Lee said they have not heard from Hurley or his lawyer in over a year.
A years’ long WINK News investigation uncovered a nexus of companies associated with Matt Hurley all out of the same small office inside a Fort Myers office building.
The companies include not just H2 Motorsports, LLC and the Southwest Florida Innovation Center but also data mining and political consulting companies. Many are also associated with Youngbloods, Inc., another venture of Hurley’s that comes up in at least three pending Lee County lawsuits.
“My clients invested money with him, we want the money back, and they won’t give it to us. That’s it; it’s a simple as that. And there’s no explanation as for why not. Where’s the money?” said Chris Vernon, who represents several Southwest Florida investors now taking Hurley to court.
One couple, Jeremy and Joy Johnston, paid Hurley $50,000 out of their savings account. According to the suit, they met him in 2017 when he was just 21 years old, and he represented himself as a “very successful wealth manager”.
The Johnson’s never saw a return on that investment or their money ever again. Another plaintiff in that same suit, Jack Hutton, claims he invested $400,000 with Hurley that he never saw again.
Hurley and his companies are not licensed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the Securities and Exchange Commission, or Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation.
Hurley and his fiancée Rachael Schaaf are also the subjects of a federal election commission complaint filed against a congressional campaign in the 2020 race.
The complaint alleges that the campaign was laundering money through Schaaf and a host of shell companies to Matt Hurley. The campaign denied those allegations, but federal filings show that a company registered to Schaaf, called Southeastern Strategies, was paid nearly $80,000 for political consulting.
Lee said he found it odd that Hurley was putting businesses in his fiancée’s name and trying to get a mortgage in her name.
“If he supposedly has all this money,” Lee questioned. “Why is he putting everything in (Rachael’s) name?”
WINK News located at least three businesses registered to Schaaf that have ties to Hurley. In July, she purchased a $500,000 waterfront property on Matlacha.
As of publication, Hurley and Schaaf had not responded to several phone calls and emails from WINK News.
Court records show that he has paid a large portion of the judgment from the Atrium lawsuit. The Lee family was able to seize racecars and assets affiliated with the racing team to try to recoup some of their losses. Jordan said she does not expect to see the remainder of what she’s owed.
Jordan explained, “This is a very small community. You don’t do this in this town. You can’t let this happen in this town.”
Attorney David Fraser, who represents Hurley and his companies in some of the civil suits, sent the following statement from the H2 Organization:
“The H2 Organization has met and maintained its obligations to all shareholders. Any and all allegations of fraud or financial misrepresentation by Mr. Hurley or The H2 Organization are baseless and likely politically motivated. The suits lodged by a few minority shareholders are frivolous. Each suing shareholder has been offered a 100 percent buyback. Thus, to allege one has been defrauded while H2 is willingly offering full buyback is incredulous. The H2 Organization remains fully committed to successful and profitable outcomes for each and every company shareholder.”
As of publication, Fraser did not respond to questions from WINK News regarding the government probe into his client.