Bill Fuller, Martin Pinilla win $63M verdict against Joe Carrollo
Little Havana developers had sued the Miami commissioner for retaliation tied to code enforcement crackdowns against their properties
A Fort Lauderdale jury vindicated Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla in their five-year legal fight with Miami commissioner Joe Carollo.
On Thursday, jurors sided with the Little Havana developers, awarding them $63 million in damages against Carollo, court records show.
The jury found Carollo guilty of violating the first amendment rights of Fuller and Pinilla, who own the popular watering hole Ball & Chain at 1513 Southwest 8th Street, among other commercial properties in Little Havana.
Carollo, one of the most combative elected officials in city history, can appeal the decision. But the verdict caps a litigious battle Fuller and Pinilla have waged against city officials as a result of aggressive code enforcement actions against their buildings and businesses in the historic Miami neighborhood. Fuller and Pinilla are the principals of Miami-based Barlington Group.
In 2018, the pair personally sued Carollo, alleging he directed code enforcers, police officers and other city staff to go after their establishments. Fuller and Pinilla alleged the city commissioner wanted revenge against them because both had supported a political opponent in the 2017 city election.
Last year, a federal appeals court tossed Carollo’s request to overturn a Miami federal judge’s ruling that the city commissioner was abusing his official position for a personal vendetta in targeting Little Havana properties Fuller and Pinilla own. The denial of Carollo’s appeal paved the way for the two-month trial.
On the witness stand, former high-ranking city officials corroborated the developers’ allegations, including Emilio Gonzalez, who served as city manager from 2018 until January 2020, and former Miami police chiefs Jorge Colina and Art Acevedo.
Carollo’s defense attorneys argued their client was simply performing his official duties to improve his district.
In 2019, Fuller held a press conference outside Miami City Hall to denounce Carollo, and verbally sparred with the commissioner at a public hearing in February of the same year. At the meeting, Fuller brought up Carollo’s 2001 arrest for misdemeanor simple battery against his then-wife, a video recording shows. Maria Ledon Carollo told Miami police officers that Carollo hit her in the head with a terracotta canister.
“You are a disgusting human being,” Fuller railed at Carollo. “Sir, you are a fraud who beats his wife. That is you, a wife-beater.”
Fuller and Pinilla are also part-owners of Mad Room Hospitality, a company that owns the operations entities for Ball & Chain and Taquerias el Mexicano, a Mexican restaurant in Little Havana that has been closed since 2021. The same year, affiliates of Mad Room sued the city of Miami for $27.9 million in damages, citing code enforcement crackdowns that led to Ball & Chain temporarily closing, and the shuttering of Taquerias.
That lawsuit is still pending.