The Real Deal Miami

Venezuelan family sues Miami investment firm over alleged Ponzi scheme

Investors hoped to reap fixed returns from bankrolling a construction company
By Sean Stewart-Muniz | February 10, 2017 08:45AM

Construction cranes

By all accounts, Miami’s various real estate markets are a hotspot for international investment — but not all deals go off without a hitch.

A Venezuelan family, seeking to recoup its cash from a financing deal gone sour, has filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, alleging family members were duped into an investment scheme by Miami firm 7A Capital.

The suit was filed by three Venezuelan citizens: Arnaldo Cogorno, his wife Grisela Cogorno, and their granddaughter Oriana Cogorno.

According to the complaint, the three had taken an interest in marketing materials circulated in Venezuela by Brickell-based 7A Capital, which acts as a financial consultant for real estate companies. The firm was promoting a “private investment opportunity” in a construction company called Almarse, where investors would finance the cost of Almarse’s construction contracts up front, later reaping a fixed return on their money.

In June of last year, the Cogornos decided to pull the trigger and lent 7A Capital $200,000 meant to fund Almarse’s concrete and masonry contract at the East Hialeah Market project, a retail development located at 3500 Northwest 79th Street. Four months later, the family signed off on a second pair of investments totaling $100,000 in a contract Almarse purportedly had to help renovate Sawgrass Mills’ Oasis outdoor shopping area, according to the suit.

As part of the agreements, 7A Capital was supposed to place the Cogorno’s funds in a bank account controlled only by 7A, and it wouldn’t pay out any cash to Almarse without a written request, the suit states.

But in October, Oriana Cogorno grew suspicious, according to the suit. She hadn’t seen any evidence of that bank account and emailed Alejandro Rotundo, 7A Capital’s managing director, to ask for proof.

What happened next was the final nail in the coffin. Rotundo copied Cogorno on a November e-mail to Alfonso Garcia-Gallo, Almarse’s CEO, practically admitting 7A Capital had no control over Almarse’s bank account where the Cogorno family’s investments were deposited, the suit alleges.

Not long afterward, the Cogornos hired Miami attorney Joseph Carballo to file suit. The counts against 7A Capital, Almarse, Rotundo and Garcia-Gallo range from breach of contract to conspiracy to commit fraud.

Requests for comment to a lawyer representing 7A Capital were not returned, nor was an email sent to Garcia-Gallo.

After reviewing the contracts and marketing materials, Carballo told The Real Deal that he believes 7A Capital may have oversold the opportunity to other unsuspecting investors and is using cash from new projects to pay off older debts — making it a Ponzi scheme.

“A lawyer clearly did not write the documents,” he said, referring to the marketing materials. “They’re full of internal inconsistencies and ambiguities.”