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A federal judge has denied a long-standing bid by the former chairman of Banco Latino International of Miami to have the bank’s estate cover $1.2 million in legal fees he incurred while fighting to clear his name of fraud allegations. In an opinion dated May 16, U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages in Miami held that Gustavo Gomez Lopez had failed to file his claims within a statute of limitations. She reversed a ruling by Senior U.S Bankruptcy Judge A. Jay Cristol, who had agreed with the banker that his claim should be allowed and that he should be paid out of the institution’s $5 million bankruptcy estate. The district court ruling represents the second of two setbacks for Gomez Lopez, who earlier this month saw Judge Cristol reject his petition for sanctions against the law firm Akerman Senterfitt and two of its former lawyers who had represented Banco Latino International. Gomez Lopez, who has appealed that decision, had claimed that his former employer and its law firm had caused him to incur unnecessary legal expenses as a result of “baseless filings and abusive practices.” He sought sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which allows parties to sanction the other side for bringing bogus legal claims. But in a five-page ruling on May 5, Cristol determined that Banco Latino International, Akerman and the two lawyers had done nothing wrong. The bank’s filings, the judge ruled, were “credible and reasonable.” The two lawyers, who in October moved from Akerman to Holland & Knight, are Rodolfo Pittaluga Jr. and David Softness. In the sanctions matter, the two lawyers, law firm and bank were represented by Joseph W. Hatchett, the former chief judge of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who is a partner at Akerman Senterfitt. As a result of Pittaluga and Softness going to Holland & Knight, Banco Latino International has retained separate counsel for the rest of the bankruptcy case: Jay L. Alexander of Baker Botts in Washington and Mindy A. Mora with Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod in Miami. Gomez Lopez was represented in both matters by Andrew B. Herron and Peter Homer of Homer & Bonner in Miami. Neither Homer nor Herron returned calls for comment. Banco Latino International was a U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela’s second-largest bank, Banco Latino. The bankruptcy arose from the collapse in January 1994 of Banco Latino International, a so-called Edge Act institution that only was allowed to accept deposits from non-U.S. residents and was not covered by U.S. deposit insurance. When Venezuelan regulators took over Banco Latino in early 1994, it prompted a run on deposits at Banco Latino International’s offices on Brickell Avenue. Gomez Lopez contended that the bank was taken over for domestic political reasons in Venezuela rather than financial problems or poor practices. To protect itself from creditors and depositors, Banco Latino International took the unusual step of filing for Chapter 11 protection in Miami. It was the first and only time an Edge Act institution has filed for protection from its creditors. Banco Latino International ultimately liquidated and repaid creditors and depositors. It still has $5 million remaining. But the parent bank in Venezuela continued to pursue Gomez Lopez in court. After Banco Latino International’s move into Chapter 11, the bank, which was taken over by the Venezuelan government, and Venezuelan regulators sued Gomez Lopez in U.S. District Court in Miami for wire fraud and money laundering, among other charges. But in 2000, U.S. District Judge Shelby Highsmith summarily dismissed the suit for insufficient evidence. The bank filed an appeal of the decision but later withdrew it. In January 2003, Judge Cristol determined that Gomez Lopez could have the legal fees he accumulated over the decade paid out of the bankruptcy estate. Last August, the Daily Business Review reported that amount to be at least $1.2 million. Banco Latino International appealed Cristol’s ruling on the fees to Ungaro-Benages, who in turn ruled in the bank’s favor.

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