Best Meridian Insurance seeks to foreclose on South Florida office and religious buildings

Miami-based lender alleges two separate property owners in Fort Lauderdale and Miami defaulted on a combined $11.6M

Best Meridian Seeks To Foreclose On South Florida Buildings
The Ebenezer Christian Academy and Full Gospel Assembly at 3925 and 3901 N.W. Second Ave., 180 N.W. 40th St. and 171 N.W. 39th St in Miami and the Bank of America Financial Center in Fort Lauderdale (Google Maps)

Best Meridian Insurance Company is looking to nab a triple-play foreclosure.

In separate civil lawsuits filed in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the Miami-based lender is alleging the owner of a Fort Lauderdale office building, and a church and school owner in Miami, each defaulted on a combined $11.6 million mortgage debt. 

Mitchell Mandler, Best Meridian’s lawyer, did not respond to requests for comment. 

On Feb. 14, Best Meridian sued an entity managed by Janalie Bingham, CEO of Wells Real Estate Investment, a Boca Raton-based firm that owns Bank of America Financial Center at 3661 West Oakland Park Boulevard. In March, Wells obtained a $7.2 million loan with a 9.5 percent fixed interest rate from Best Meridian, but two months later stopped making monthly payments, the lawsuit alleges. 

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In 2016, Wells paid $4.4 million for the three-story, 43,770-square-foot office building completed in 1976, records show. The 2.5-acre site also has 133 parking spaces. 

Wells has been seeking to work out a resolution with Best Meridian, Bingham said. “We are surprised to learn they have filed for foreclosure,” Bingham said. “We are currently in negotiation with [Best Meridian] to resolve the issue and to pay them off.”

On Feb. 18, Best Meridian sued Emy Etienne Jr., as loan guarantor, and an entity he manages that operates Ebenezer Christian Academy at 3925 and 3901 Northwest Second Avenue and Full Gospel Assembly church at 180 Northwest 40th Street and 171 Northwest 39th Street. Etienne is the pastor for the church and the school, which are in Miami’s Buena Vista neighborhood. 

The properties also include a 5,800-square-foot office, a 3,039-square-foot retail building, a 1,035-square-foot home and a 1,988-square-foot duplex. In June, Etienne’s entity took out a $3.9 million mortgage with a 9.6 percent interest rate and a four-year maturity, records show, 

A month later, Etienne’s entity allegedly failed to make its monthly payment, and the loan remains in default, the lawsuit states. In 2019, the church and the school sold the four parcels to Etienne’s entity for a combined $3.8 million. The sellers are both nonprofit religious organizations managed by Etienne, while his entity that bought the properties is a for-profit company, records show.