This year a scathing final judgment
against a Miami international tax attorney was the real
estate litigation story that caught the most eyeballs.
Suzanne DeWitt initiated a “faux romantic” relationship with much older Belgian investor Marc Van Moerbeke, who truly was attracted to DeWitt, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman wrote in his final judgment.
Van Moerbeke trusted DeWitt to guide his $15 million venture into 17 Coral Gables mansions, but instead she kept the properties and rental income, and also lived in one of the homes, according to court filings. DeWitt responded in court that Van Moerbeke had gifted her the homes and sued her to get back at her for breaking off their engagement.
”In fact, not a shred of credible evidence supports DeWitt’s claim that Van Moerbeke bestowed upon her such largesse,” the judge wrote.
Other top real estate litigation news involved allegations of secret recordings at a high-end Miami condominium tower as well as claims against two big law firms and separate claims against baseball’s Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez.
The runner-up top real estate litigation story was a suit alleging that residents of high-end Miami Palm Bay Tower condominium were secretly recorded. Fired concierge Christian Miranda sued the condo association and property manager KW Property Management LLC for retaliatory termination. Miranda, who filed his suit under the state whistleblower and communications security acts, said he was fired after speaking up about the secret audio and video recordings at the tower. KW Property vehemently denied both the allegation of secret recordings and of retaliatory firing. The Palm Beach condo association didn’t return request for comment. The issue in part is that Florida is a two-party consent state, meaning all sides have to agree to a video or audio recording. The state whistleblower act protects staff members who report illegal activity. Perhaps adding more interest to this story is that prominent Miamians own Palm Bay units. They include well-known city developer Avra Jain.
The EquiAlt real estate Ponzi scheme already was the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint when two big law firms were sued in a separate civil class action over their alleged involvement. DLA Piper and Fox Rothschild were sued in federal court in Tampa in July. Previously, in February the SEC charged that EquiAlt ran a $170 million Ponzi defrauding over 1,100 investors, most of them elderly. They were told their money would go to safe residential real estate investments, but some of it was diverted to lavish spending by EquiAlt executives and some repaid existing investors. As for the civil class action, it focused on Paul Wassgren, a DLA Piper Los Angeles partner formerly at Fox Rothschild, who drafted documents distributed to investors. The suit says Wassgren knew the records included false and misleading information. Wassgren, DLA Piper and Fox Rothschild didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Timeshare is big business in Florida so when one timeshare company sued a firm that promises consumers it can get them out of their timeshare contracts, readers were interested. Westgate Resorts, based in Orlando with 13 Florida timeshare properties, sued Reed Hein & Associates, which operates Timeshare Exit Team, in 2018 but this year’s story was about the impending trial. A two-week federal jury trial in Orlando is to start in January.
Baseball great Alex ”A-Rod” Rodriguez has been locked in a six-year legal battle with his ex-brother-in-law Constantine Scurtis over a national multifamily real estate venture that went awry. Rodriguez was married to Scurtis’ sister, Cynthia Scurtis, from 2002 to 2008. Scurtis claims the baseball star pushed him out of their real estate venture and profits Scurtis claimed were due. Rodriguez, who maintains the allegations are based on facts Scurtis knows to be false, filed a counterclaim saying Scurtis took money out of their partnership without authorization. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Maria de Jesus Santovenia in June allowed Scurtis to add punitive damage claims in his amended complaint against Rodriguez.