A jury convicted South Beach real estate broker Ken Tomlinson of extorting two of his competitors: Jill Eber and Jill Hertzberg, a sales team known as “the Jills.”
A Miami jury convicted Tomlinson after a week-long trial that exposed a sampling of the cutthroat competition in South Florida’s luxury real estate business.
Eber and Hertzberg accused Tomlinson of demanding that they pay him $800,000 or he would expose their manipulation of data on homes listed for sale to news media.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch ordered Tomlinson jailed before sentencing, which will happen no sooner than August.
Tomlinson faces as many as 30 years in prison but probably will get a much shorter sentence because the two convictions for extortion are his first felonies.
Tomlinson discovered that the Jills manipulated data on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) by hiding homes with listings older than six months.
That inflated their performance as Realtors and precluded other real estate agents from offering to work for home owners represented by Eber and Hertzberg.
Eber and Hertzberg acknowledged at trial that they asked an office associate, Juan Carlos Otoya, to help clients with unsold homes who complained about phone calls from other brokers who wanted to get their listings.
But Eber and Hertzberg testified they were unaware that Otoya hid MLS information on at least 51 homes by making them appear to be located in neighborhoods other than their actual ones.
In April 2015, Tomlinson complained to the Miami Association of Realtors about the Jills’ manipulation of MLS data.
After filing his complaint with the Miami Association of Realtors, Tomlinson went to Hertzberg’s home in Miami Beach and threatened to publicize the MLS manipulation unless she and Eber paid him $250,000 each.
Eber and Hertzberg then contacted Miami Beach police detectives who secretly recorded phone calls from Tomlinson and a meeting in which he demanded more money – $400,000 from each of them.
Defense attorney John Bergendahl contended that Tomlinson was trying to negotiate a settlement of a professional dispute with Eber and Hertzberg before suing them.
Eber testified that Tomlinson’s threats and demands were not negotiations: “He said, ‘I’m not going to negotiate this like a house sale.’ ” [Miami Herald] – Mike Seemuth