Trio charged with defrauding real estate investors out of $155M

Feds allege Biscayne Capital International principals used client funds to pay other investors and pay themselves millions of dollars

Trio charged with defrauding real estate investors out of $155M
The three men were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. (iStock)

Federal prosecutors in New York criminally charged a trio from a Miami-based company with allegedly scamming investors out of $155 million tied to phony real estate projects.

Miami resident Ernesto Weisson, Argentinian national Fernando Haberer Bergson and Roberto Cortes, a Madrid resident, were hit with a three-count indictment alleging they conspired to defraud foreign investors and financial institutions as part of an international fraud scheme stretching from South America to the U.S. and Europe.

The three men were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. If convicted of all counts, each defendant would face a maximum penalty of 70 years in prison. Their attorneys could not be immediately reached for comment.

The indictment is the latest criminal case exposing the symbiotic nexus between South Florida real estate, financial crimes and money laundering. Last month, federal prosecutors criminally charged Naman Wakil, a Syrian national living in Miami, with bribing Venezuelan government officials to obtain overvalued government contracts. He then allegedly laundered some of the proceeds by buying and flipping luxury condos in Miami during a seven-year span.

Cortes and Weisson were also sued by 162 mostly South American investors in Miami-Dade Circuit Court last year, alleging the two men ran a $250 million real estate Ponzi scheme. That civil complaint is still pending.

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According to the latest indictment, Cortes and Weisson founded Biscayne Capital International, a now-defunct financial services company at 1548 Brickell Avenue in Miami. Between 2013 and 2018, Biscayne Capital International’s principals and Bergson allegedly made material misrepresentations and omissions to their clients and financial institutions about how their funds would be used.

The indictment alleges that Bergson, Cortes and Weisson falsely told some clients that their investments would be used to finance the development of real estate projects. Instead, the trio used the investment funds to pay other clients, cover company expenses and pay themselves millions of dollars, according to prosecutors.

To cover up their alleged fraud, Bergson, Cortes and Weisson allegedly provided clients with fraudulent account statements that showed fake investments. They also allegedly fraudulently obtained short-term credit from financial institutions. Bergson allegedly generated fake letters of authorization to repay the banks from clients’ accounts without their authorization.

Their scheme collapsed in 2018 when Biscayne Capital International went into liquidation, resulting in more than $155 million in losses to the company’s clients, the indictment states.

According to the 2020 civil lawsuit against Cortes, Weisson and their companies, South Bay Holding and Biscayne Group, the pair allegedly committed securities fraud by issuing worthless promissory notes on nonexistent real estate projects. South Bay Holding had attempted to develop real estate projects, primarily in Key Biscayne, in 1999, and later expanded by acquiring 29 lots and associated club memberships at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, the complaint states.

Investors provided capital through mortgages that Cortes and Weisson never recorded, and the first mortgage holder was a hard lender affiliated with the two men, the lawsuit alleges.