Kevin Tomlinson and the Jills are battling it out this week in a Miami courtroom, as Tomlinson faces four felony charges, including two counts of extortion related to the luxury real estate agents and their alleged manipulation of the Multiple Listing Service.
More than three years after Tomlinson filed a complaint with the Miami Association of Realtors against Miami’s top real estate team, Jill Eber presented her side of the dramatic story on Wednesday tied to the listings of multimillion-dollar properties.
It began in April 2015, when Tomlinson, a luxury real estate agent in Miami Beach, filed a complaint with the Realtors’ association against Eber and her business partner, Jill Hertzberg, claiming they altered MLS data on 51 of their properties – an alleged violation of the association’s code of ethics – to hide how long some listings had been on the market. Complaints filed with the association are confidential.
Months later, Tomlinson reached out to Hertzberg, allegedly demanding $250,000 from each of them. While Eber was on vacation in the Turks and Caicos, she said, Hertzberg called her with Tomlinson. “Kevin started out saying ‘I’m not a bad guy. Teresa King Kinney, head of the [Miami Association of Realtors] board, said if you can work this out with the Jills and dismiss the complaint, the charges go away,’” Eber claimed.
The Jills went to the police and eventually recorded conversations with Tomlinson where he allegedly demanded up to $800,000 to keep quiet. “I’d rather this be a blip on your career that no one needs to know about … I don’t want anything to get to the Wall Street Journal,” he said in the recordings.
In August 2015, he was charged with two felony counts of extortion, resisting arrest and depriving an officer of means of protection. He pleaded not guilty.
During the trial on Wednesday, Eber said her team handles the MLS and she wasn’t aware that one of her employees was doing anything unethical. She said she did not remember who gave her the administrative codes used to manipulate certain fields in the MLS that changed the days on market for listings that were on the “hot sheet.”
“I’m not tech savvy at all. In my career in real estate, I’ve never pulled up anything on the MLS,” Eber said in Miami-Dade County court on Wednesday. “I ask any one of my employees to help me. The only thing I know how to do are emails, texts and sometimes I’ll put something on Instagram.”
Fifty-one properties were manipulated, and 73 listings were left to expire at the time. “I thought that … it was just simply taken off the hot sheet for that day. I had no idea what happened after that,” Eber said.
In a June 2015 response to Tomlinson’s complaint, Eber said that she and Hertzberg took full responsibility for her employee’s actions. “We didn’t think it was wrong. We should have known what was going on.”
In March 2016 the Miami Association of Realtors increased fines for manipulating listings to $5,000 per violation.
After the fact, she said, “I understood it. I understood it completely. Both Jill and I felt terrible at the time.”
Hertzberg testified on Tuesday, the opening day of the trial, and the proceedings are expected to wrap up later this week.