The losing side of a 2014 trial between two Miami developers fighting over finances for a private jet claims that the verdict was the result of the winning side bribing a juror.
In a Miami-Dade Circuit Court lawsuit, Craig Robins’ development firm, Dacra Development Corp., claims that Ugo Colombo or someone acting on his behalf bribed the juror with money and a unit at one of Colombo’s high-end buildings worth about $1 million in exchange for the verdict.
Lawyers for Colombo, responding to the suit in court papers, called the bribery claim “fabricated and patently false.” They called the suit a “[H]ail [M]ary,” noting it was filed after Robins lost an effort to stop Colombo from seeking punitive damages from Robins in a related case.
The suit, Colombo’s lawyers added, “is patently a fraud.”
They also said that the latest suit was an attempt by Robins and his company, Dacra, to avoid paying about $3 million in post trial judgment and attorney fees.
Robins and Dacra are best known for developing Miami’s Design District, home to high fashion brand stores. Colombo was one of the pioneer developers of luxury real estate in the city. They have been locked in legal disputes over the $22 million Bombardier Challenger aircraft they once co-owned.
The litigation is rooted in Colombo’s allegation that Robins neither paid for his share of jet costs nor for an around-the-world trip he took that cost more than $200,000, perhaps as a way to wiggle out of his jet co-ownership agreement and accompanying payments. In a separate suit, a bank claimed Robins “grew ‘tired’ of owning the jet” but also didn’t seek any of the agreement buyout options.
A lawyer for Dacra recalled in an email to the Daily Business Review that there were concerns about the juror during the 2014 trial, but the judge rejected Dacra’s motion for a new trial.
Jan Jacobowitz of the University of Miami School of Law said it’s common to raise questions about jurors before, during and right after a trial. But raising a serious allegation such as jury tampering ”several years later in a civil lawsuit is what makes this an unusual case.”
Holding companies and lawsuits
Colombo owned the jet through UC Challenger LLC until September 2007, when he sold half of his interest in UC Challenger to an affiliate of Robins’ Dacra, CL36 Leasing LLC, according to Colombo’s second amended third party complaint against Dacra and Robins. Colombo kept his interest in UC Challenger through CMC Group.
The deal was for each owner to pay for his own jet use and for half of the fixed costs, like maintenance. Also, Colombo had taken out an $18.5 million Bank of America loan for the airplane, but that was eventually split in half between the owners, according to court records.
The suit claiming juror bribery stems from a lawsuit Dacra filed about nine years ago, claiming malicious prosecution by Colombo and CMC Group. Specifically, Dacra accused Colombo of prompting the company they had hired to manage the jet, Turnberry Management III Inc., to sue Dacra over unpaid jet payments that Dacra says it didn’t even owe.
Turnberry Management is an affiliate of developer Jeffrey Soffer’s Turnberry Ltd. Its lawsuit against Robins was settled, according to a separate court filing by Colombo against Robins.
For his part, Colombo countersued Dacra within the same lawsuit, accusing it of unjust enrichment and of breaching jet co-ownership agreements.
The jury for Dacra’s claims against Colombo and Colombo’s against Dacra in March 2014 returned a more than $2 million damages verdict in favor of Colombo and his CMC Group. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Darrin Gayles, now a federal judge for Florida’s Southern District, in May 2014 entered an amended final judgment for Dacra to pay $550,000 to Colombo and $929,535 to CMC Group; and for Robins’ CL36 Leasing to pay $27,908 to CMC Group.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman in March 2017 ordered Dacra to pay $1.5 million in attorney fees and costs in the same case.
Nearly five years after the jury verdict, Dacra and CL36 Leasing have sued Colombo and CMC Group saying they bribed a juror, identified as Roderick Brooks, to obtain the favorable outcome.
“The verdicts were corruptly secured by the defendants who tampered with and bribed a juror,” Dacra attorneys wrote in the Dec. 14 complaint.
Attempts to reach Brooks at nine telephone numbers and an email address weren’t successful by deadline.
Dacra attorneys claimed in the complaint the juror was short on money before the trial, when he bought a 13-year-old sedan for about $6,000, but the lawyers said he had plenty of money after the trial, when he bought a $26,829 big rig truck cab.
Dacra attorneys also claimed in the complaint that the juror reduced his down payment for the truck cab, which was bought to launder the bribery money, to little less than $10,000 after the seller told him that a $10,000 or more down payment would require an IRS form. The truck was crashed twice as a way to monetize it through insurance claims, Dacra’s attorneys claimed.
Hall, Lamb, Hall & Leto managing member Andrew Hall, Jones Walker partner Edward Shohat and Young, Berman, Karpf & Gonzalez senior partner Andrew Berman, all based in Miami, filed Dacra’s lawsuit.
“Throughout this case our policy will be to reserve our comments for the court, except to observe that this case alleges conduct which is extremely serious, striking at the very heart of the civil justice system,” Berman said in an emailed statement. “We intend to press this case vigorously.”
The attorneys say they have an affidavit with the juror’s admission that they will file under seal.
In his response in court, Colombo’s attorney seized on the affidavit claim, calling it a “mystery affidavit” that Dacra attorneys haven’t had the “audacity” to file.
“Robins is a crook and is simply trying, once more, to avoid accountability,” Jesse Dean-Kluger, who has his own practice in Miami, said in an email to the Daily Business Review.
In the wake of the 2014 trial, Dacra attorneys raised issues with some of the jurors, including Brooks.
In the weeks after the March 10, 2014, verdict, Dacra attorneys argued for a new trial and rehearing, saying that when asked during preliminary examination of jurors, the jury foreperson, another juror and Brooks didn’t disclose they had been sued in civil cases. Brooks also didn’t disclose he had filed for bankruptcy protection and was twice convicted of a felony, according to Dacra’s March 25, 2014, motion for a new trial.
Brooks was charged with conspiring to embezzle from California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit and with providing false statements to a lender, again in California, according to an order for him to appear in front of Gayles, the judge on the Dacra-Colombo case.
Gayles in a March 22, 2014, order found Brooks wasn’t in contempt of court when he didn’t disclose this information when asked.
“The facts learned after the trial—that during the juror voir dire the then-prospective juror had lied when testifying he had never been convicted of a crime—were not stricken. They were found to be true. The juror was a convicted felon who had served time in a federal penitentiary,” said Dennis Richard, a Richard and Richard attorney in Miami who represented Dacra in the trial and called for the new trial.
“The facts set forth in the new complaint, which have since surfaced, are grave. Efforts to obfuscate those facts will not make them go away,” Richard added. “The consequences of jury tampering are severe.”
Raoul Cantero, a White & Case partner in Miami who was part of Colombo’s team during the trial, said he was shocked to hear about the juror bribery allegation and that no one from his firm bribed a juror.
“I have no idea where that’s coming from,” he said. “Certainly nobody in my firm was involved in that, and I wouldn’t expect that my client or any of his associates were involved either. I don’t see how those allegations could be true.”
The lawsuit was filed under the claim that there was a fraud on the court by the bribe and the jury tampering and asks the court to vacate the damages and attorney fees judgments, according to the complaint.
Jacobowitz, the University of Miami instructor, noted that filing the bribery claim in a civil context instead of a criminal action is consistent with suit’s goal — to set aside the orders for Dacra to pay Colombo.
“Having somebody criminally prosecuted doesn’t directly accomplish that goal,” she said. “The goal of the criminal prosecution is imprisonment or fine.”
As for how much pull Brooks could have had on the other five jurors? It’s impossible to know, Jacobowitz said.
In Florida civil cases, the six jurors have to be unanimous to hand down a verdict, she said.