Divorce, foreclosure and an $18M offer: Inside the saga on Pine Tree Drive

Characters involved include Meruelos and Miami Beach neighbor, billionaire Russ Weiner

From left: Rockstar Energy's Russell Weiner, Richard Meruelo, and Maria Meruelo along with 5101 Pine Tree Drive in Miami Beach (Getty, Google Maps, Coldwell Banker)
From left: Rockstar Energy's Russell Weiner, Richard Meruelo, and Maria Meruelo along with 5101 Pine Tree Drive in Miami Beach (Getty, Google Maps, Coldwell Banker)

Less than two miles from the now mostly demolished Deauville Beach Resort, a separate saga involving the Meruelo family is playing out in court over a waterfront estate on Miami Beach’s Pine Tree Drive.

The main characters include Richard Meruelo, son of developers Belinda and Homero Sr.; Richard’s former wife, Maria Meruelo; and Rockstar Energy founder, billionaire Russell Weiner. The property is 5101 Pine Tree Drive, a four-bedroom, 15,000-square-foot mansion sandwiched between Weiner’s two properties.

Maria Meruelo filed for divorce from Richard Meruelo in 2018 — and again in October 2019. Though the latter case is still open, their marriage was dissolved last year after Richard filed a motion to split the dissolution of the marriage and a final judgment into separate issues. Richard’s motivation for the bifurcation of issues was to marry his girlfriend, who became pregnant in March 2019 and with whom he now has two children, his attorney Daniel Kaplan wrote in a motion filed early last year.

Kaplan, of Kaplan Loebl, argued that it would “greatly take the personal strain out of the equation, and the case will become more like a business dispute.”

In addition to being part of the lengthy divorce-related litigation, the Pine Tree Drive property is at the center of a foreclosure case filed in August 2021. Weiner became involved when he bought the note on the property about a month after the previous lender sued for more than $6 million in unpaid mortgage payments. (Weiner paid more than $35 million in 2021 for the two surrounding waterfront properties on 5011 and 5111 Pine Tree Drive, which total nearly 3.5 acres.)

Yet, ownership of the Meruelos’ home remains in dispute, following complicated legal dealings. Maria, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker, is listing the home at 5101 Pine Tree Drive for $22 million. It’s been on the market since May of last year and is visible on Realtor.com.

But it actually sold this past January when Richard transferred ownership to a company controlled by his mother for about $7 million. Richard’s transfer of ownership of the property is being challenged in court, with two hearings in the divorce and foreclosure each set for March 3.

Kaplan said the company that purchased it “saved the day by redeeming the property,” instead of allowing it to be sold for “a fraction of its fair market value” at a foreclosure sale. (In foreclosure proceedings, the borrower can “redeem” the property if they pay off the loan and related fees.)

Weiner’s attorneys, Matthew Kramer and William Riley, argued in a Jan. 19 motion that because Meruelo transferred ownership to his mother’s LLC prior to the foreclosure auction and prior to redeeming the property, the redemption is invalid. Complicating the situation even more, on Jan. 25, the clerk certified that Richard satisfied the final foreclosure judgment.

Litigation has dragged on. In the divorce alone, attorneys have entered nearly 3,000 docket entries.

“Basically what we have here is a case of scorched earth litigation,” said Kaplan, Richard’s attorney. “The former wife is refusing to move on with her life.”

In late 2018, Maria Meruelo obtained sole ownership of a separate Miami Beach home that the couple previously shared, at 5727 Pine Tree Drive.

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Divorce filings show Maria has been trying to sell 5101 Pine Tree Drive property to developer Andres Isaias for $18.4 million. According to a request filed on Jan. 13, her attorney asked the court, for the fourth time, to enforce the sale agreement the former couple had with Isaias, and to claw back Richard Meruelo’s transfer of the property that he redeemed.

Isaias declined to comment.

In one filing, Maria’s attorney cites Miami-Dade Judge George Sarduy’s ruling May 16 that precludes Richard from transferring a marital property without a court order or permission from Maria. Her attorney calls the January transfer to the Belinda Meruelo entity “fraudulent.”

“Just as we said, and feared, would happen, the former husband sold the 5101 property at the foreclosure sale for pennies on the dollar,” reads the Jan. 13 emergency motion, filed by Melissa Kanoff, an attorney in Raymond Rafool’s office. Rafool represents Maria Meruelo.

Richard Meruelo “plays by his own rules and believes he is above the law,” the filing alleges. It goes one step further, asking the judge to put Richard Meruelo in jail for failing to comply with the amended sale order.

The Meruelo family is known locally for its real estate holdings in Miami Beach. The family owns the Deauville Beach Resort site at 6701 Collins Avenue, where a proposed upzoning failed to pass in November. The historic hotel was subsequently mostly demolished. Belinda and Homero’s adult children, including son Alex in Los Angeles, Richard in Miami Beach and L.A., and the late Homero Jr., who died in November, have all been involved in the real estate industry.

Deauville Associates, led by Belinda, owns the oceanfront Deauville site. In Maria Meruelo’s divorce complaint, she said that Richard was vice president and director of a Deauville entity, and alleged that he “uses his status” and his control over his mother to turn the companies into “mere instrumentalities of his own personal designs.”

Last year, Deauville Associates entered into a contract to sell the property to Miami Dolphins owner and billionaire Related Companies developer Steve Ross for a reported half a billion dollars.

The Meruelos had already been accused of intentionally letting the hotel fall into disrepair, to the point where it was declared unsafe by the city and ordered to be knocked down by the same judge who oversaw the Surfside collapse litigation.

By the summer, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber brought an unsolicited proposal from Ross to redevelop the site. The offer was contingent on Ross getting a voter-approved increase in floor area ratio — or overall size of the project — to accommodate his Frank Gehry-designed plans for an Equinox condo and hotel development.

While all of that was in the works, the Meruelos were lining up properties to buy, including the historic Casablanca resort in Miami Beach.

Prior to the unsolicited offer for the Deauville site, the Meruelo-led entity racked up millions of dollars in fines from the city of Miami Beach. In December, prominent Miami architect Kobi Karp sued to enforce a lien for unpaid work at the Deauville, totaling more than $130,000. Karp’s work began in early 2018 and ended in October 2021, according to the complaint.