In the latest Pandora Papers investigation involving South Florida real estate deals, a group of Italian nationals went on a mega-buying spree while under indictment in their home country.
While facing charges in two separate real estate money laundering probes connected to an alleged organized crime syndicate, Italian developer Antonio Velardo and three associates bought more than 130 South Florida properties, primarily in Miami-Dade County, through shell corporations since 2012, according to the Miami Herald.
The Miami Herald collaborated with the Italian publication L’Espresso to sift through a massive leak of secret documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that were shared with news organizations around the world.
In an October Pandora Papers story, the Miami Herald reported that singer-songwriter Julio Iglesias used various shell companies to build his South Florida real estate portfolio, which is worth an estimated $120 million.
The same month, based on Pandora Papers leaked documents, the newspaper revealed the identities of Saudi nationals with close ties to the royal family that bought swaths of land around Orlando in the late 1990s.
In the latest report, the Miami Herald found that Velardo was charged in 2013 in connection with real estate deals in the southern Italian region of Calabria, including a seaside development called the Jewel of the Seas. The deals allegedly involved the Italian mob organization, ‘Ndrangheta, according to the Miami Herald.
The Italian quartet primarily focused on acquiring distressed properties with an average price of roughly $120,000, but taken together the deals totaled more than $16 million, the Miami Herald reported. Most of the deals were all cash.
One of Velardo’s alleged accomplices told the Herald that he faced “no problem” buying properties in South Florida, despite the charges, including securing mortgages on seven properties.
The deals showcase how easy it is for anyone to buy U.S. real estate, even people facing criminal charges. But it does not appear that the four Italians’ purchases involved money laundering, the Miami Herald noted.
Velardo and his three associates denied any illicit activities when they bought the South Florida properties, according to the Herald.
“[W]hen the mortgage crisis hit the U.S., I saw a unique opportunity to invest in real estate,” Velardo told the newspaper. Velardo was acquitted in one of the probes, and his conviction in the other probe was ultimately dropped on appeal, the Miami Herald reported.
[Miami Herald] – Francisco Alvarado