The Real Deal New York

Miami realtor claims the Jills conducted a “Lance Armstrong meets Target-type data breach” on MLS

Kevin Tomlinson outlines hundreds of alleged data manipulations involving super-broker duo

August 26, 2015 10:17AM
By Katherine Kallergis

The Jills and Kevin Tomlinson

From left: Jill Hertzberg, Jill Eber and Kevin Tomlinson

From the South Florida website: Not long after Miami Beach realtor Kevin Tomlinson was arrested for allegedly trying to extort Miami’s power real estate duo, the Jills, Tomlinson has a new job.

And he is speaking out to The Real Deal about the issues related to his arrest, citing 353 alleged manipulations of the MLS system, including 30 to active listings in 2014, alone. The Jills spokesperson, however, said the MLS changes were unintentional, and only concerned expired listings.

Julian Johnston, of Calibre International Realty, confirmed to TRD that he hired Tomlinson. Tomlinson was fired from ONE Sotheby’s International Realty after his arrest on Aug. 8.

“I’ve known Kevin for many years. There are two sides to every story, and the story about Kevin has been a distraction from the real issue,” Johnston told TRD. “Innocent until proven guilty.”

In April, Tomlinson filed a complaint with the Miami Association of Realtors against Jill Hertzberg and Jill Eber, claiming that they altered MLS data to hide homes that had been on the market for a long period of time.

Complaints with the Miami Association of Realtors are confidential.

Months later, Tomlinson met with Hertzberg to make the complaint disappear, the Miami Herald first reported. Tomlinson reportedly said the complaint would vanish if both of them paid him $250,000. If they refused, he threatened to take the complaint public. The Jills then went to the police, who then told Hertzberg to invite Tomlinson back with a $400,000 check. He reportedly asked for $800,000, but it was too late for Tomlinson.

Officers took him into custody at his Meridian Lofts penthouse on Miami Beach. During the arrest, which he reportedly resisted, Tomlinson reached for one of the officer’s guns and grabbed its handle, according to the Miami Beach Police Department. He was charged with two felony counts of extortion, resisting arrest and depriving an officer of means of protection.

Bruce Rubin, spokesperson for the Jills, issued the following statement to TRD:

“The MLS issue was absolutely unintentional. It had nothing to do with properties for sale; it only concerned off market, expired listings. Further, the board’s own rules call for being given notice and an opportunity to cure the matter. No such notice had yet been given,” the statement said.

Tomlinson told TRD on Tuesday that the arrest is “a distraction.” He said the listings that he claims the Jills altered had to be active because it’s “impossible to change data once it is expired.”

“Data integrity is very important to the real estate market,” Tomlinson said in a statement to TRD. “It is inaccurate to say that this has nothing to do with properties for sale, and there’s no way for someone to ‘unintentionally manipulate’ data. A data entry error is one thing, but these breaches were numerous, purposeful and unethical. It’s actually impossible for an agent or broker to change information once the listing is expired.”

Tomlinson told TRD the manipulations were to property identifiers, such as city, zip code and subdivision area so that the properties could not be found.

“All the properties listed in the MLS that were manipulated by the Jills were actively for sale at the time, and the number is significant. In 2014 alone, 30 active listings were manipulated, amounting to more than $228 million. There was a total of 353 data manipulations for an average of 11.76 manipulations per listing, according to findings in the MLS records,” he continued.

“This seems to me like a long-term, consistent manipulation for personal gain. I would characterize it as a Lance Armstrong meets Target-type data breach. I’ve never seen anything this offensive in my more than 20 years in the industry, including last year, when I served on the Miami Association of Realtors Residential Board of Governors,” he said in the statement.

Other Realtors in the community have rushed to Tomlinson’s defense since the incident. Esther Percal, a Realtor with EWM/Christie’s has questioned the arrest on her Facebook page.

“This is a simple case of, is Kevin extorting The Jills? Or are The Jills extorting Kevin? who obviously knows something worthy of discussing a substantial exchange of money!” Percal wrote as part of a long commentary. The post received 121 likes.

Said Rubin: “Our legal advisers believe that this was planned extortion scheme from the very beginning. … [When the Jills] became victims of a blackmail attempt, they did the right thing — they immediately called the authorities. When good people make an honest mistake, they do the right thing. Others choose extortion.”