Juiciest South Florida real estate lawsuits of 2023
Allegations of corruption and overall shadiness involving big name real estate players dominated this year’s top legal battles
Some of the biggest players in South Florida’s real estate industry found themselves in court battling nasty allegations in 2023.
In some cases, plaintiffs sought to expose the dark nexus between developers and Miami elected officials with an alleged penchant for skirting ethical boundaries. Among the most prominent: Rishi Kapoor, the disgraced founder of Coral Gables-based Location Ventures who resigned from his firm amid an avalanche of lawsuits against the firm and him.
Other legal skirmishes featured high-profile real estate executives, Stephanie Shojaee and Patrick Carroll, who faced accusations of painting themselves in a positive light by allegedly defaming people with whom they clashed. And in probate court, siblings of Miami Beach real estate dynasty, the Robins family, are duking it out over the assets of their deceased patriarch, Gerald “Jerry” Robins.
Here are the 10 juiciest South Florida lawsuits reported by The Real Deal in 2023:
In April, Miguel Angel Weill suffered the indignity of allegedly being spat in the face by Carroll, who sold his eponymous multifamily real estate management firm for $80 million over the summer. Caroll allegedly slandered Weill, the manager of a Wynwood Japanese restaurant, by falsely accusing him of attempting to extort the multifamily mogul, according to a defamation lawsuit filed in June. Carroll has denied spitting in Weill’s face, and the lawsuit is still pending.
In June, Miami Beach broker Stacy Robins launched a legal battle against her siblings, Gina Robins and developers Craig and Scott Robins, to stake her claim to their deceased father’s estate. In court filings, Stacy Robins accuses her sister and two brothers of attempting to exclude roughly $6 million from the final tally of their deceased father’s assets. In October, Craig, Gina and Scott Robins filed a petition requesting the appointment of an “independent curator” to sort out which of Jerry Robins’ assets should be included in the distribution plan spelled out in his will.
In May, Greg Brooks unfurled bombshell allegations that triggered Kapoor’s downfall as one of the rising stars in South Florida’s real estate industry. In a lawsuit against Location Ventures, Brooks, the firm’s former CFO, accused Kapoor of several improprieties, most notably that he had hired Miami Mayor Francis Suarez as a private consultant earning $10,000 a month for an unexplained role. In response to the complaint, Location Ventures confirmed the Suarez arrangement, but said the mayor’s side gig was to promote Location Ventures outside the city of Miami. Brooks and Location Ventures settled the lawsuit, but a wave of new civil complaints soon followed against the firm and Kapoor. Location Ventures now has a receiver appointed and is selling off all its assets. Kapoor left the firm in July while facing criminal investigations.
In the wake of securing a $63.5 million verdict against Miami commissioner Joe Carollo for relentlessly harassing Little Havana developers Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla and their businesses, Fuller and Pinilla turned their scopes to city bureaucrats. In November, the duo filed a new federal lawsuit against Carollo, the city and nine Miami government employees, including City Manager Arthur Noriega and City Attorney Victoria Mendez. Fuller and Pinilla are seeking more than $60 million in damages for an alleged campaign of targeted harassment that shut down their businesses and resulted in allegedly illegal code violations against their properties.
Maria Lamas, co-founder of Shoma Group, and her daughters, Anelise Shojaee and Lilibet Shojaee, didn’t appreciate Stephanie Shojaee, Shoma’s president, mouthing off about them during a podcast. In February, Lamas and her kids sued Stephanie Shojaee, who is married to Lamas’ ex-husband and Shoma’s other co-founder, Masoud Shojaee, for defamation. The trio alleged the current Mrs. Shojaee made false statements about them during a podcast interview in December of last year. In October, Stephanie Shojaee, Lamas and the two daughters entered into a confidential settlement agreement, and the case was dismissed, court records show.
David Gersten, the court-appointed receiver for the Hammocks Community Association, a homeowners association at the center of one of the biggest criminal fraud cases involving HOAs, set his sights against attorneys that allegedly aided and abetted the scheme. Gersten filed lawsuits against law firm Rasco Klock Perez & Nieto and partner Hilton Napoleon II, and law firm Elbert Radames Alfaro Berta, Alfaro & Fernandez and its attorney, Yudany Fernandez. The pending complaints seek $9 million in damages.
George Pino, president of Doral-based State Street Realty, is in a heap of trouble over a deadly boat crash he allegedly caused on Labor Day weekend of last year. In addition to facing criminal charges, Pino and his wife are being sued by the parents of Katerina Sofia Puig, a 17-year-old girl on the boat ride who was left permanently disabled. The accident also killed 17-year-old Luciana Fernandez. Kathya and Rodolfo Fernando Puig, the injured teen’s parents, allege Pino was drinking alcohol and provided it to the teenagers aboard the boat he was driving.
In September, lobbyist and former state representative Manny Prieguez sued then-Miami commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla and two of his close confidantes, Humberto “Bert” Hernandez and Anibel Duarte-Viera, on civil counts of racketeering, conspiracy and attempted bribery. Prieguez alleges the trio participated in a scheme to coerce him and his client, Aabad Melwani, into making Duarte-Viera a partner in a team vying for a new city contract to build a new marina on city-owned land in Virginia Key. Prieguez claims the alleged extortion attempt failed, but that Diaz de la Portilla then engaged in a campaign to hurt Prieguez’s lobbying business. The lawsuit is still pending. Diaz de la Portilla lost re-election last month after being criminally charged with multiple felonies stemming from an unrelated public corruption probe.
Palm Beach Gardens-based brokerage, Sutter & Nugent, accused two former agents, Matthew Moser and Nicholas Gonzalez, and rival firm Serhant Florida of engaging in corporate chicanery. In May, Sutter & Nugent filed a lawsuit alleging the brokers stole trade secrets and violated their contracts. The complaint accuses Moser and Gonzalez of soliciting staff and agents to join them at Serhant, as well as using confidential marketing data and stealing listings that were initiated or secured through Sutter & Nugent. The lawsuit is still pending.
After settling previous lawsuits over construction of the long-delayed — and recently completed — Estates at Acqualina in Sunny Isles Beach, Suffolk Construction reignited its legal war with developer Jules Trump. In February, the general contractor filed an amended complaint adding another $5 million in allegedly unpaid work at the two-tower condo project. Trump is seeking roughly $50 million in damages against Suffolk. The company claims Trump also tried to poach employees working on the development. Both lawsuits are still pending.