Ex-Mayo Clinic nurse’s sudden rise to multimillion-dollar real estate mogul a fraud, feds say
Matthew Onofrio’s jump from nurse anesthetist at the Mayo Clinic to boasting hundreds of millions of dollars in sudden wealth through real estate deals became a fantastical success story that attracted a wide audience online.
All just as he entered his 30s.
“I was sitting in an operating room realizing I have so much more potential than this and really feeling like I did not have control over my life,” Onofrio said in an August YouTube video titled “How An Anesthesiologist Became a Real Estate Mogul Worth $160 Million.”
That video has since been removed from YouTube following Onofrio’s indictment on three charges of bank fraud in federal court in Minnesota last month. Federal prosecutors allege the 31-year-old Eau Claire, Wis., resident’s wild success story was so improbable because it was built upon a $35 million bank fraud scheme.
That’s in stark contrast to the tale portrayed in numerous interviews this year on podcasts with titles such as “The Wealthy Way” and “Future Flipper.”
“If you don’t know Matt, you need to! This guy went from 0 to over $100 million in net worth in just three years!” wrote Ryan Pineda, host of “The Wealthy Way” podcast, in the description of an episode.
“It’s absolutely crazy, but true! He’s shown me his bank account to prove it! This guy is legit and is killing the game!”
Through that and other media appearances, Onofrio dazzled interviewers with the story of how he graduated from college in 2019 and worked as a nurse, paramedic, firefighter and nurse anesthetist before making an immensely profitable switch to real estate.
“I started listening to [podcast] ‘Bigger Pockets’, I started reading a lot of books,” Onofrio explained to one host. “Really just started reaching out to brokers and trying to find deals.”
He credited a style referred to as “triple-net investing” for his fast success and described how other aspiring tycoons could follow his path with ease. Triple-net investing is considered a low-risk investment in which a tenant and property owner agree that the tenant pay all expenses associated with the property. It is billed as a means for investors to grow passive wealth.
But according to the federal indictment of Onofrio unsealed last month, Onofrio defrauded banks by submitting false information to lenders financing investors’ real estate deals. He is also accused of altering purchase agreements to back up higher appraisals of the properties.
Onofrio allegedly withheld information from lenders, including that he was lending money to investors to help them buy the properties.
He called such loans a “seller carry,” and directed that it not be disclosed to banks financing the investor’s purchase, according to charges.
On more than one occasion, prosecutors say, Onofrio temporarily wired funds to investors’ accounts to make it appear as though they had more available assets than they truly did. The three bank fraud charges against Onofrio are for separate 2021 wire transfers of between $430,000 and $9.5 million to investors applying to buy properties in St. Cloud, Sauk Centre and Elk River.
Federal prosecutors are seeking to forfeit more than $35 million seized from a Rochester bank account controlled by Onofrio.
Onofrio was released on a personal recognizance bond during his first appearance in court Nov. 23. He is next due in court for an arraignment hearing Jan. 13.
“Through the course of the last few months, our office, on behalf of Mr. Onofrio, has been in contact with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, so the Government would be aware of his ongoing business dealings and that he was not a flight risk. We have surrendered Mr. Onofrio’s passport and he will reside at his home in Wisconsin pending the resolution of his case,” said Marsh Halberg, Onofrio’s attorney, in a statement to the Star Tribune.
“At this point, the Defense is aware of very few, if any, transactions where the investors have suffered actual losses at this time. We believe most of the transactions with Mr. Onofrio still maintain a positive cash flow and/or an increase in the value of the property that was purchased.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota would not comment last week beyond the charges filed against Onofrio.
The 2020 date the government alleges Onofrio began his scheme overlaps with the period in which another web bio described the ex-nurse as becoming “formally retired” because of his real estate success.
Prosecutors say he used his Northwoods Management LLC business to carry out the fraud. In May, months before criminal charges would be filed against Onofrio, Northwoods Management filed a federal civil suit against Matthew and Lauren Hermann, Puerto Rico residents who owed money to Onofrio’s business for the purchase of a property in Minneapolis.
In a third-party claim against Onofrio filed by the Hermanns — who declined to comment for this story — Matthew Hermann described Onofrio as holding himself out as an experienced investor with the “deal of a lifetime” for Hermann.
Hermann alleged that he only discovered the “realities of the deal” after purchasing the property — that it did not deliver the promised financial benefits and that Onofrio took a $1.5 million fee for the sale he was not entitled to, because he was not a licensed real estate broker.
To do this, Hermann claimed, Onofrio entered into a purchase agreement with the property’s seller for $4.75 million before getting Hermann to sign an agreement to buy it for $6.3 million.
“Then, without ever actually buying the property, he sat in the middle and scooped up the difference,” Hermann’s attorney, Daniel Eaton, wrote in the complaint. “Investments do not always go as planned; this, however was more than just unmet expectations. Onofrio pushed Hermann — a novice with real estate — into this purchase with grand promises of the deal of a lifetime. The reality, though, was that Onofrio was the one assured to make money on the deal, not Hermann.”
Court records described how Hermann and Onofrio first crossed paths at a conference in Colorado for a national organization that facilitates peer-to-peer mentoring groups.
They connected over talks about real estate, as Hermann noted he just bought a duplex as an investment and wanted to invest further. Onofrio boasted about how much he makes in the field “and even showed Hermann bank account balances showing over a million dollars.”
Over lunch the next day, Onofrio brought up the eventual Minneapolis property and claimed it was undervalued by $2 million. He would loan Hermann the extra $1.5 million that Hermann needed to cover the down payment.
Hermann wouldn’t get to his goal of leaving his job by just buying duplexes, Onofrio said. This sale “will light gas on the fire of where you need to go.”
“This is all about mindset,” Onofrio told Hermann, according to court filings.