Juiciest South Florida real estate lawsuits of 2022

Several prominent developers were hit with sizable judgments in the past 12 months

From left: Steve Witkoff, Armando Codina, R. Donahue Peebles, Grant Cardone, Jorge Perez, Stephen Ross, and Alex Sapir
From left: Steve Witkoff, Armando Codina, R. Donahue Peebles, Grant Cardone, Jorge Perez, Stephen Ross, and Alex Sapir (Getty, YouTube)

Pay up! Pay up! Pay up!

That was a recurring theme for prominent South Florida real estate players feeling the sting of the judicial system in 2022.

During the past year, Miami-Dade Circuit Court judges in separate cases slapped developers Armando Codina and Don Peebles, as well as hoteliers Nakash brothers, with hefty judgments and sanctions totaling more than $25 million.

Aventura-based multifamily investor Grant Cardone wants New York billionaire Stephen Ross to reimburse him for a luxury watch worth $750,000 that was allegedly stolen during the Miami Grand Prix at Hardrock stadium earlier this year.

A former DLP Capital employee is demanding his ex-employer pay him for $21.7 million in allegedly owed profits earned on real estate deals. And investors who sold a West Palm Beach development site to Jorge Pérez’s Related Group claim they were jilted out of $13 million.

Here are the 10 juiciest South Florida lawsuits reported by The Real Deal in 2022:

$17 million judgment against Nakashes

In November, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Valerie Manno Schurr ordered the Nakash family, New York-based hoteliers who own the Hotel Breakwater in Miami Beach, to fork over $17.4 million in punitive damages and $2.1 million in attorney fees to the property’s restaurant tenant.

In a wild set-up to build fabricated evidence against Ocean’s Ten restaurant operators Catherine and Anthony Arrighi, a private investigator pretended to be a guest and filed bogus noise complaints with the city, according to Schurr’s order. Under oath, the hotel’s general manager Salem Mounayyer unapologetically admitted to hiring the private eye.

Schurr ruled in favor of Ocean’s Ten owners, who in 2020 sued the Nakash family affiliate that owns the Art Deco hotel at 940 Ocean Drive. The Arrighis alleged Hotel Breakwater breached their lease agreement through an unlawful harassment campaign by Mounayyer.

Miami Design District woes for Restoration Hardware

A text Restoration Hardware CEO Gary Friedman sent Miami Beach-based retail developer Michael Comras last year summed up the high-end furniture retailer’s frustrations trying to open a flagship store in the Miami Design District:

“You’ve got good cash flow, no capital investment, no f*cking around with a bunch of buckethead tenants with multiple leases, and an anchor tenant that gives you a much better chance of renting the other space.”

The text was among several messages that were attached to a Miami-Dade civil lawsuit Restoration Hardware filed in January against Comras and Apollo Commercial Real Estate. The still pending suit alleged they are stonewalling its plans and attempting to blow up the lease for eight properties the partners own in the arts, dining and luxury retail neighborhood.

Restoration Hardware was supposed to open at the end of last year after signing a four-year deal with gross annual rent starting at $1.6 million, which the company claims it started paying in November.

Grant Cardone vs. Stephen Ross

A group of unknown thieves allegedly created a distraction in the VIP area of the Miami Grand Prix last year so they could jack a Richard Mille watch Cardone was wearing, according to a lawsuit the Aventura-based multifamily investor filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in October. The Formula One race was held in May at Hard Rock Stadium, which is owned by billionaire New York developer Stephen Ross.

Cardone is seeking reimbursement for the luxury timepiece valued at $750,000, the complaint states. He is suing the stadium, Formula One’s parent Liberty Media, Naples-based racing promoter Florida Motorsports and Cincinnati-based Whelan Event Services.

On his social media accounts, Cardone occasionally shows off his six-figure watches to his followers as part of his audacious displays of personal wealth.

He claims the robbers had access to the VIP areas where he and other high-profile guests and celebrities “were encouraged to bring significant funds and sport the most expensive jewelry in the world.”

The complaint is pending.

Alex Sapir’s wife seeks out of loveless marriage

For Alex and Yanina Sapir, “money has been no object,” according to a divorce complaint filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. During 12 years of marriage, the couple traveled the globe, owned multiple boats, lived in a waterfront Miami Beach mansion and attended multiple Burning Man festivals.

But alas, it wasn’t enough. In April, Yanina Sapir filed the dissolution of marriage petition because she “can no longer remain in such a loveless relationship.” She is seeking child support for their two minor children, alimony and an equitable distribution of their assets, including their Venetian Islands home, which is currently listed for $13.9 million.

Alex Sapir, who heads New York-based the Sapir Organization and Sapir Corp, should support their two minor children “based on his significant earnings” and his ability to provide the kids “with the lifestyle enjoyed by the parties during the course of the intact marriage,” the complaint states.

Contractor wins $8M judgment against Codina Partners affiliate

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During its 42-year history, Codina Partners has kept a mostly clean record avoiding construction lawsuits. Except for one Fort Lauderdale general contractor that Codina unjustly fired two years ago, according to Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge William Thomas.

In September, Thomas ruled a Codina affiliate must pay Grycon $7.8 million in damages for wrongfully terminating the construction firm that built the developer’s 5350 Park condominium project in the mixed-use community, Downtown Doral.

Led by Armando Codina and his daughter Ana-Marie Codina Barlick, Codina fired Grycon the same day 5350 Park received its certificate of occupancy in May 2020. Grycon filed its lawsuit later that same year.

The construction firm alleges Codina was attempting to skip out on a final bill of $4.1 million. Codina appealed Thomas’ ruling and has a pending countersuit against Grycon.

Ex-DLP employee seeks $21M in profits

When it came to executing DLP Capital’s business model, the St. Augustine-based real estate firm turned to Anthony Ruben.

Now Ruben is seeking $21.7 million in damages against DLP and firm owner Don Wenner after his ex-employer allegedly fired him before paying him his share of the profits from real estate deals he developed, according to a lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in January.

In addition to a $160,000 salary, Ruben was supposed to earn bonuses tied to acquisitions, sales and debt placement for real estate deals that he and the firm brought in, the pending complaint states.

DLP agreed to pay him fees ranging from 2.5 percent to 20 percent on deals which he led and was involved in, Ruben alleges. For instance, Ruben claims he is owed about $240,000 on a $1.2 million profit share from the sale of a property DLP bought in 2019.

Shore Club deal is a “crooked and secretive land grab”

Steven Witkoff, who heads his eponymous New York-based firm, “appears to have hatched and orchestrated a scheme” to muscle out a former owner of the Shore Club hotel in Miami Beach, according to a pending lawsuit in New York filed in July.

The Clark Estates, the family of the late newspaper publisher and businessman Stephen Carlton Clark, is seeking at least $125 million in damages. Clark alleges the family was illegally cut out of its ownership share in the oceanfront property at 1901 Collins Avenue through a “crooked and secretive land grab.”

In 2020, Witkoff and Monroe Capital bought the Shore Club and are moving forward with plans to renovate and redevelop the Art Deco complex into a condo-hotel under the Auberge brand. The historic hotel was built in 1939, redesigned in the early 2000s and has been closed since the onset of the pandemic.

A Clark family affiliate co-owned the property with HFZ Capital and Fortress, and the partnership had planned to redevelop the Shore Club, but the project fell apart when the condo market slowed in 2018. Clark accuses Witkoff and Monroe of violating the profit participation agreement that was put in place to safeguard the family’s stake.

Peebles hit with $1M in court sanctions in Bath Club dispute

In October, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman denied a second attempt by developer R. Donahue Peebles to avoid paying $1 million in sanctions. Peebles’ entity, Bath Club Entertainment, sought a rehearing after an appeals court denied its petition to overrule Hanzman’s order last year penalizing the developer in an ongoing legal war tied to the Bath Club in Miami Beach.

Bath Club Entertainment allegedly failed to provide outdoor food and beverage services to condo owners or repair and maintain the property’s cabanas at the level of a world-class resort, according to lawsuits filed by the condominium and maintenance associations for The Residences at the Bath Club. Peebles renovated the historic private club and developed the adjacent 118-unit condominium at 5937 Collins Avenue.

In an email, Peebles said the $1 million in sanctions represents a fraction of the amounts Bath Club Entertainment has won against the associations. He said the boards of directors are keeping unit owners in the dark about the associations’ court losses, reminding him of “a propaganda-driven dictatorship.”

Investors sue Related Group over West Palm Beach deal

A trio of investors allege they were cheated out of nearly $13 million in a West Palm Beach land deal involving Jorge Pérez’s Related Group. In April, Stephen and Louise Kornfeld, and Jody Weissman sued two Related affiliates in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

Weissman and the Kornfelds sold the waterfront site at 4334 North Flagler Drive to Related in 2005, records show. The developer plans to build two 24-story towers with 399 units. When Related took over the site, the firm paid off the sellers’ $3.4 million mortgage. The developer also made a partial cash payment to the sellers, and agreed to give them a cut of future cash flow generated by sales of the condo units, the lawsuit states.

The investors accuse Related of fraudulently transferring its assets from one development entity to another affiliate to avoid paying them.

Florida Luxurious Properties sues former co-owner

When Julie Jones bailed on the Fort Lauderdale brokerage she co-owns to join Douglas Elliman as an agent, she took millions of dollars worth of luxury home listings with her, according to a lawsuit filed in August in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

Jones has a 55 percent stake in Florida Luxurious Properties, the company suing her. The lawsuit is pending.

Jones flipped brokerages in June, three months after a falling out with Benjamin Olive, then-co-manager of Florida Luxurious Properties. The pair had a dispute over her profit distributions and other money she alleges she is owed, the lawsuit states. She retained her co-ownership of Florida Luxurious even though she transferred her broker’s license to Elliman.