A disbarred attorney with a troubled past is accusing two Miami commercial real estate brokers of muscling him out of a commission, according to a recently filed lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
Thomas Borell is suing Real Miami Commercial Real Estate and its owners, Daniel Zelonker and Isabel Fine, for a cut of the commission from the $5.1 million sale of a Coral Gables medical office building last year. Borell is a state licensed real estate broker since 1984 who was also a licensed attorney until 2012. That’s when the Florida Supreme Court banned Borell from practicing law following a state bar investigation that found he raided a client’s trust account for his own benefit.
David Haber, a Miami attorney representing Zelonker and Fine, said Borell’s lawsuit has no merit. “To me, it looks like a shakedown,” Haber said. “It is a baseless lawsuit from a guy who didn’t have the listing and wants to try to get paid using smoke and mirrors.”
Borell, who is representing himself according to his suit, did not return two phone messages seeking comment. Prior to his Florida bar troubles, Borell was one of six individuals the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused of insider trading in 2009, tied to Neff Corp. The SEC civil complaint alleged Borell traded shares of the Florida equipment rental company, based on private information he acquired from one of the firm’s directors who was his friend. Two years later, a federal judge granted Borell’s motion for summary judgment and he was removed from the SEC complaint prior to the case going to trial, according to court documents.
Since his debarment six years ago, Borell has focused on his commercial real estate career. He alleges that in 2016 he met with Zelonker and they both agreed to share pocket listings, or listings in which brokers have a signed listing agreement with a seller but the property is not advertised or entered into the Multiple Listing Service, or the advertising is limited for an agreed-upon period of time. The agreement included Real Miami Commercial Real Estate and all its agents, Borell alleges. He also alleges he and Zelonker agreed to evenly divide any commissions involving the sale of properties on the pocket listings.
Among the properties were several buildings owned by real estate investor Kevin Fox, including a two-story office building at 4950 Southwest Eighth Street, and Borell allegedly provided Zelonker confidential information about these pocket listings, the lawsuit states. Months later, Borell alleges, Fine called Fox without his knowledge and inquired if the property was for sale because she had an interested buyer. Borell claims Fine knew the building was among the pocket listings he was sharing with Real Miami Commercial Real Estate.
Borell didn’t find out about the sale until after it was completed on March 17, 2017 and he claims that Zelonker and Fine wanted to keep the deal a secret from him so they wouldn’t have to pay him half of the commission, the lawsuit states. Fox’s 4950 SW Eighth LLC sold it to Gdjard Investment LLC for $5.1 million.
In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Zelonker and Fine argue that pocket listings do not constitute actual real estate listings and that they can’t be enforced through any contractual basis. Zelonker and Fine each emphatically denied any wrongdoing.
“I don’t do anything unethical at all,” Zelonker said. “He claims he gave me Fox’s number, yet I have known Fox my entire life.”
He said Borell once told him about a medical location that was for sale, but that he only approached one client who wasn’t interested. Fine said she worked exclusively with Fox and her client on the deal and she received the entire commission.
Fine said that she did her due diligence and that at the time she inquired with Fox about the property, he told her that it was no longer listed with any other broker. “I went knocking door-to-door,” she said. “When I get to the building, I spoke with the security guard who told me there is a representative of the building inside. He put me in touch with the owner.”
Fine said she does not do pocket listings and that she never met Borell. “I don’t know what he looks like and I don’t know who he is,” she said. “I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.”