The French bank CDR Creances keeps getting the better of hotel developers convicted of federal tax fraud charges.
Mauricio Cohen Assor and his son, Leon Cohen Levy are serving a decade in prison for tax fraud after they were arrested arriving in the United States in 2010 for a deposition in a civil fraud lawsuit brought by the bank.
Now a state judge has ruled they improperly put the proceeds of the sale of their properties toward their court-ordered restitution.
The Cohens wanted to put $7 million received from a Miami Beach land sale toward restitution ordered by U.S. District Judge William Zloch in Fort Lauderdale in 2011. Cohen Assor was ordered to pay $9.38 million restitution, and Cohen Levy $7.76 million.
The pharmacy chain CVS Caremark Corp. plans to build a store on the property at Collins Avenue and 14th Street.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Lisa Walsh ruled from the bench Aug. 1 that the Miami Beach proceeds should go to the bank.
Lawrence D. Goodman, the Cohens’ attorney, argued the federal government had a superior lien on the property because of Zloch’s restitution order.
“CDR, an instrumentality of the Republic of France, seeks to elevate its position above — and to ignore — two federal restitution judgments issued by a Florida federal court,” Goodman, a partner at Devine Goodman Rasco Watts-FitzGerald & Wells in Miami, wrote in a brief.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Miami, which prosecuted the Cohens, did not take a position.
The Cohens lost control of the properties after another Miami-Dade circuit judge, Valerie Manno Schurr, ruled in favor of CDR.
Bank attorney Marcos D. Jimenez, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery in Miami and a former U.S. attorney in Miami, said of the motion, “It was really frivolous: take someone else’s property — property that has been awarded to CDR — and use it pay restitution.”
The six properties the Cohens once owned are worth an estimated $85 million. They once proposed to build Empire World Towers, a pair of 93-story skyscrapers in Miami before financing fell apart.
They were convicted of using shell companies to conceal more than $150 million in assets including a $45 million investment portfolio, a $10 million condominium at Trump World Tower in New York, a fleet of luxury vehicles and a helicopter.
The Cohens fought to keep control of the properties through their companies.
The Cohens appealed Schurr’s ruling to the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami, which upheld her decision to grant CDR’s motion to strike their pleadings for committing a fraud on the court.
The Cohens then tried to get the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their arguments to no avail.
Jimenez said the appeals were intended to tie up the property as long as possible.
Failure to repay bank financing for a Flatotel hotel built by the Cohens in Manhattan was the nexus of CDR’s 2008 lawsuit against the developers. They were accused of hiding a $33 million profit when it was sold in 2000.
“The Cohens thought they were above the law, and I think they have learned both the state courts and federal courts here in Florida will hold them accountable,” Jimenez said.