For Michael J. Matthews, being mayor of the casino gambling mecca of Atlantic City presented seemingly endless opportunities to enjoy himself at someone else's expense.
FBI tape recordings being played at his trial in federal court here on corruption charges reveal a 50-year-old politician with an enormous appetite for the good life. Matthews, who was recalled from office by Atlantic City voters 20 months ago, is accused of selling his office to organized crime interests for more than $130,000 in payoffs.
In a tape-recorded meeting last November at an Atlantic City restaurant, Matthews described for undercover FBI agent James Bannister a recent vacation in Antigua. When he told hotel officials who he was, Matthews recalled, they gave him a suite reserved for high rollers and refunded his payment.
"They treated me so royally down there," he said. "I was in the casino, one guy's giving me bottles of Jack Daniels and French water, you know."
Matthews also described how a romantic encounter in Antigua with a waitress turned sour.
"That girl is absolutely gorgeous . . . . I called her up one night and we got together . . . . I said call me and . . . I'll get you a better job. So I got her a job at the Playboy casino . And then she calls me up and broke the news. She says, well, I don't have my green immigration papers. And I said, what the hell does that mean? Then I found out what it meant."
But the talk kept drifting back to the way Matthews conducted city business. He described his conversation with one local businessman: "I said, I gotta raise . . . money, I said. Let me be perfectly blunt with you, I said, we do a lot of purchasing with a lot of people. I want to know who in the hell we can tap to raise me some . . . funds."
The former state assemblyman and accountant also disclosed his plan for supplementing his public salary.
"What I gotta do is get some people to hire me," he said. "Cause I know the accounting business . . . . It's a good way to wash money through is to hire me as an accountant. But only one guy did it last year. He wanted, he wanted a big favor . . . .
"I said, well, you can be paying me as your accountant. All right, give me 5,000 bucks, I said, $5,000 in my bracket 'cause I make too much money that shows up front. My, my salary of $60,000 with the city, my salary of $18,000 with the state, that's $78,000 I gotta show. And then you get hit for almost 50 percent of that."
As the two men sipped drinks, Matthews also recalled his recent service as a judge at a Miss Penthouse beauty contest.
"Boy, you ought to see the girls from these . . . countries," he said. "The girl from South Africa is a doll baby. A girl from, it used to be Rhodesia, some other country, a doll baby. The girl from Canada is no slouch, either."
Matthews finally described a New York weekend when he was entertained at the mansion of Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione.
"I figure I got the limousine free, I ate dinner for free. I went to see, uh, uh, Chorus Line, which was comped to me. So all I had to do was pay for the . . . room, you know, and some food . . . . It cost me a few hundred bucks, but that'd be like a $2,000 weekend."
The only sour note for Matthews -- other than wondering aloud whether his telephone was bugged -- was the recall election he faced at the time.
"If this . . . recall thing could disappear, I've been invited to Thailand, China, Japan, ah, Switzerland, Italy," he told FBI agent Bannister. " . . . I could take, what the hell, one month and just go around the world and have a ball. And it probably wouldn't cost me anything."