Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
By Ron Hurtibise
Published March 4, 2017
Here’s a reminder of why you should always pause and
think a moment before hitting that email “send” button.
A Broward Circuit Court jury on Thursday awarded $43.9 million in damages to
a South Florida condominium development group that included Dan Marino,
Huizenga Holdings and the Maroone family in a lawsuit that started with a
The investors were
part of a company called West City Realty Advisors when it
contracted Wachovia Mortgage Corporation in 2006 to become
the preferred lender for a Plantation luxury project called
Veranda Condominium, according to a civil complaint.
By that time, about 95 percent of the project’s 200 units
had been pre-sold and were under contract for a total of
$79.5 million, the complaint says.
Meanwhile, the housing market had begun its infamous
descent, making comparable condo units less expensive.
In October 2007, a Wachovia employee emailed one of the
purchasers a reminder about an upcoming closing date — violating a
confidentiality clause, the complaint states.
In the “carbon copy” or “CC” field of the email were the email addresses of
more than 100 other project purchasers, the suit says.
According to the complaint, “Almost immediately after the Blast E-Mail was
transmitted, the recipient of the Blast E-Mail replied to every buyer … and
invited the buyers to reconsider their decision of whether to close on their
purchase contracts, emphasizing that the purchase prices for their
condominium units were ‘overpriced’ in the current market.”
Soon, the buyers created a united front against Veranda to get their
deposits back, the suit says, and devise a strategy for reducing the
purchase prices of their pre-construction contracts.
Lawsuits started flying, and ultimately Veranda returned abut $1.6 million
in deposits to buyers contracted to buy more than 80 units for a sum of
about $32.5 million, the complaint states.
Phase one was finished in 2008 with just 71 of the original purchasers
paying their full contracted price, said Fort Lauderdale attorney William
Scherer, who represents West City Realty Advisors.
Phase two was taken over by construction lender Regent Bank and recently
completed by investors who purchased it out of foreclosure, Scherer said.
He said the $43.9 million awarded by the jury represented the total
investment by Marino, Huizenga Holdings, the Maroone family, Rhonda
Friednamer and the principal developers, Steve Douglas and Ken Simigran.
“They lost every penny and the jury brought back every penny,” Scherer said,
adding the investors are asking the court to award an additional $21 million
in pre-judgment interest.
The jury trial started Monday and dealt only with the damage award, Scherer
The plaintiffs won a default ruling in the case in 2011 when Wachovia —
which was later acquired by Wells Fargo — failed to file an answer to the
complaint, Scherer said.
Reached Thursday, a Wells Fargo spokesman said the bank believes it has
“numerous strong grounds for an appeal.”
“Because of certain pre-trial rulings, Wells Fargo was unable to present to
the jury important evidence and arguments about the many factors that
contributed to [the] plaintiffs’ claimed losses that are unrelated to
Wachovia/Wells Fargo,” said Tom Goyda, Wells Fargo senior vice president,
consumer lending communications, in an email. “As a result, the verdict in
plaintiffs’ favor was far larger than we believe is warranted by all of the
relevant facts and circumstances.”