The Real Deal Miami

Venezuelan siblings allegedly scammed $2.9M to fund Miami real estate purchases: lawsuits

The Lauricella brothers allegedly overdrew their Zuma Bank account by $500k and obtained a $2.45M loan under false pretenses, according to lawsuits
By Francisco Alvarado | December 04, 2018 10:30AM

Home at 2305 Lake Avenue and Mint

A pair of investor brothers entangled in a Venezuelan petroleum scandal allegedly misappropriated about $2.9 million from a Caribbean bank to help pay for their local real estate purchases, including a Todd Michael Glaser-built Miami Beach mansion, according to court documents from a series of lawsuits filed between September of last year and early this month.

In the most recent lawsuit, filed on Nov. 5 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, Zuma Bank is going after Inversiones Y.A.M.R., a Florida corporation managed by Miguel A. Lauricella. The bank originally sued Miguel Lauricella and his brother Franco Lauricella on Sept. 28, 2017. Headquartered in Dominica, Zuma also filed three other lawsuits in July naming as defendants a Venezuelan company controlled by the Lauricellas, a third brother named Jose Lauricella and Joseline Rodriguez, another relative.

“My client is out of pocket almost $3 million,” said Zuma Bank’s lawyer, Carlos Sardi. “We are trying to recover the money from the individuals and related entities that were recipients of those funds. There are also questionable business practices by these individuals.”

Simon Ferro, the attorney for the Lauricellas and their companies, did not respond to email and phone messages seeking comment.

According to the lawsuits, Jose Lauricella opened an account at Zuma Bank on July 25, 2014 on behalf for Comercializadora Frainjo C.A., a Venezuelan company controlled by Miguel and Franco Lauricella. A year later, after Comercializadora Frainjo had established good standing with the financial institution, Zuma granted a request from Franco Lauricella to overdraw his account by $500,000. At the time, the company had passed more than $17 million of transactions through the Zuma account.

On Sept. 11, 2015, Franco Lauricella applied and was approved for a short-term loan in the amount of $2.45 million while still owing Zuma $524,960 in overdraft funds, the complaint states. Zuma claims Franco Lauricella told the bank the loan was to pay off suppliers and that he agreed to pay it off 70 days later at a 6.5 percent annual interest rate.

Frainjo subsequently transferred $1.87 million into two BB&T accounts in Miami, including $250,000 into an account belonging to a company called Transporte Urbano Fermin C.A.; $200,000 into a Citibank account in Miami under the name Maria Alejandra Barrios Borges; and $450,000 to a Frainjo account in Curacao, the Zuma complaint states.

The lawsuits allege that Transporte Urbano Fermin C.A. is part of a Venezuelan conglomerate embroiled in a corruption scandal along with its principals in Venezuela. The principals — Esteban, Enrique and Eduardo Urbano Fermin — have been indicted by Venezuelan authorities and are currently fugitives residing in the U.S., according to the lawsuits. They are accused of “over-invoicing” for products and services that resulted in a $35 billion loss to Venezuela’s treasury,  Zuma alleges.

“These recent events unfolding from the scandal raise doubts about the legitimate business purpose of the wire transfers made by Frainjo,” the complaint states.

The short-term loan was due on Jan. 15, 2016, but Frainjo has not repaid it or the more than $500,000 in overdrawn funds, Zuma claims in the suit. The bank alleges the Lauricellas stopped responding to collection calls and emails and that Zuma executives recently found out that Frainjo had ceased operations in 2016 and that the Lauricellas had moved to Miami.

Zuma accuses Franco Lauricella of using the bank funds to pay for his lavish lifestyle and maintain multimillion-dollar investments in Miami real estate properties. Inversiones Y.A.M.R in 2014 purchased a spec mansion by Glaser at 2305 Lake Avenue on Sunset Island III for $14.25 million. At the time, the company was managed by Miguel Lauricella and Yvan Martinez Rengifo, a Venezuelan-born real estate investor and broker. In 2016, Rengifo was removed from Inversiones Y.A.M.R’s Florida incorporation records.

That same year, the property was listed for $19.5 million. And then for $22.7 million in March of last year, according to Realtor.com. Inversiones ultimately sold the 9,904-square-foot home at a loss for $11 million in April. The lawsuits also mention the Lauricellas’ interest in unit 4802 in the Mint Condo at 92 Southwest 3rd Street and a vacant lot at 3080 North Bay Road in Miami Beach.