Two lenders to Sunny Isles Beach’s Jade Ocean condominium tower have made headway in their four-year battle to get repaid by developer Edgardo Defortuna, who is known for his high-end South Florida projects.
In a fight by a separate investor over the same issue, a judge on Friday considered the developer’s motion for summary judgment but didn’t decide on it instead opting to reconvene Monday.
If the judge denies the motion, the matter will proceed to trial Monday.
The two lenders are Spartan Lending LLC and Capital Building LLC, and the investor is Florida Beach Investment Corp. They have accused affiliates of Jade Ocean developer Fortune International Realty, headed by Defortuna, as well as Defortuna himself, of executing a scheme not to repay more than $1 million in obligations by claiming the underlying project failed.
Fortune’s affiliates and Defortuna have denied allegations they invited lenders and investors to put in funds into the project all as part of a pre-meditated plan never to pay them back.
The 50-story Jade Ocean, at 17121 Collins Ave., is part of Fortune’s Jade collection that also includes the 53-story Jade Beach and the 57-story Jade Signature. The properties are within walking distance from each other.
Capital, Spartan and Florida Beach claimed that Fortune Ocean retained other Fortune International-associated entities to work on Jade Ocean, including to sell units, but paid them inflated sales commissions and administrative fees higher than “commercially reasonable,” according to the second amended complaint.
Capital, Spartan and Florida Beach filed suit in June 2014 against Defortuna; Fortune Ocean LLP, into which Florida Beach says it bought a limited partnership; and Fortune Ocean’s general partner Ocean Residence GP LLC.
Spartan and Capital each loaned $250,000 in 2006, and Florida Beach invested $500,400 in 2005, all bearing interest, according to court records.
But Defortuna and Fortune Ocean said in an Oct. 24 filing that none of their lenders got repaid because Jade Ocean was a financial flop, losing $68 million, as a result of being constructed during the real estate market crash.
Their attorney reiterated this point.
“This meritless claim is a byproduct of the historic economic downturn that devastated the real estate market in South Florida in 2009,” Susan Raffanello said in an emailed statement.
Raffanello, shareholder at Coffey Burlington in Miami, further said defendants aren’t responsible for Florida Beach’s loss.
“This savvy investor, unfortunately, has invented a continuous variety of novel theories in its ongoing effort to blame someone for its losses,” she said in her email.
Most recently, Capital and Spartan gained ground in seeking their loans and interest back.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas on Dec. 4 granted them their motion for partial summary judgment over breach of contract claims and added they are entitled to 18 percent default interest, attorney fees and collection efforts costs.
Capital and Spartan’s attorney touted the outcome.
“We are pleased that Judge Thomas ruled that Fortune Ocean must repay the loans made by Spartan Lending and Capital Building, with interest and attorneys’ fees,” Jennifer Recine, partner at Kasowitz Benson Torres partner in New York, said in an emailed statement.
Florida Beach’s fate depends on whether Thomas dismisses Fortune Ocean’s claim or if the matter goes to trial on Monday.
Recine said before Friday’s hearing that a trial would “focus on the fact that — crash or no crash — Edgardo Defortuna looted millions of dollars of investors’ funds from the Jade Ocean Project by paying his own companies grossly above market rates or paying them for services they never provided.”
But Raffanello said after Friday’s hearing she is confident her motion will be granted.
And, she added, Florida Beach through its lawsuit essentially is trying to “step on the toes of every other investor” by putting itself first in line to get back its funds. In court filings she has said that none of the others who fronted money for this project were repaid because Jade Ocean suffered financial losses as it was built during the market crash.
The second amended complaint claimed the fraud was done by funneling small amounts of funds loaned or invested in Jade Ocean through the various Fortune affiliates and then plaintiffs were given allegedly doctored documents. These records showed the project was financially struggling and had lost $63 million, something plaintiffs dispute, the lawsuit says. They say an independent audit they commissioned showed the project actually made nearly $100 million.
HLB Gravier LLP also was sued over accusations it conspired with the other defendants to provide the allegedly fraudulent documents showing the project was a financial flop but it has since been dismissed from the case.
Plaintiffs’ counsel Kasowitz Benson Torres took over the case this summer from Coral Gables-based Barakat Law, which filed the second amended complaint.