‘Where is the money?’ How a Miami real estate company got a $25 million verdict over an alleged civil theft
The first in-person trial in the Miami-Dade Circuit business court resulted in a $25.6 million verdict for a Miami company that alleged its non-owner director liquidated millions of dollars in residential real estate assets while its owner was in prison.
This was a case that relied on the demonstration of criminal intent by clear and convincing evidence to establish an allegation of civil theft, which led the presiding judge to award treble damages.
The lawsuit accused defendant Krisia Del Prado of liquidating all assets owned by Optimus US 801 NW 47th Ave LLC and five other related entities following a series of sale transactions in 2018 and 2019, which were authorized by the company owner while they were purging a prison sentence. Del Prado would then spend the money for his personal enjoyment and give the money to friends and family members who would also spend it.
There was plenty of evidence, said plaintiff attorney Scott Dimond of Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein in Miami, who said Del Prado claimed a Chicago lawyer hatched the plan to give him the money. But during the lawyer’s testimony, he denied telling her she was the owner and claimed he never prepared any paperwork to make one.
“That is the kick of this testimony. He said: “When the money disappeared at the end, I called her and said, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Where’s the money?’ And she basically said, ‘Catch me if you can.’ That wasn’t the exact quote,” Dimond said. “Our position was that she basically confessed to him that she stole it.”
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas also added treble damages after it was determined there was, indeed, intent to commit civil theft.
Partners Scott Dimond, Lorenz Pruss, Michelle Suskauer and legal assistant Maria Ceballos of Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein in Miami represented Optimus LLC.
Del Prado has denied any wrongdoing. His Miami criminal defense attorney, Joaquin Perez, did not return a timely request for comment.
In November 2014, Optimus LLC owner Stavroula Mendez was jailed for reasons unrelated to the case and was unable to view operations at her properties. She asked her stepdaughter Sandra Mendez to join the family business and trusted Del Prado, who had worked with the family since she was 18, to help run the business, the lawsuit alleges. .
Mendez and Del Prado initially maximized the company’s profitability, but that reportedly changed in 2018, when Mendez instructed Del Prado to begin liquidating assets in an effort to “build up cash that could be used to acquire an asset. more centralized real estate“. second amended complaint said.
For a while, Del Prado did just that, and in June 2019 individual corporate bank accounts had around $13 million in gross proceeds. According to the lawsuit, there remained six Optimus entities and $8.6 million to reinvest in the business.
That same month, Sandy Mendez claimed that she went to the office and discovered that Del Prado was missing, the office records had been deleted, and there was no complete record of real estate sales. After checking the bank accounts, the company realized that all the money was also gone.
The complaint said that Del Prado then “misrepresented her whereabouts, the location of Optimus LLC’s assets, and even stated that she was ‘on the run’ fearing arrest for alleged reasons. unrelated to the disappearance of company funds.”
“Ms. Del Prado pooled the approximately $13 million in funds in segregated bank accounts she controls, including in the names of Grace Inc., Westland and OBOB; worked to ‘wash’ the funds by acquiring new assets for its own benefit; and disbursed the funds to various individuals aligned or affiliated with it,” court documents say.
The Optimus Entities sued Del Prado for breach of fiduciary duty, conversion and civil theft. Companies and third parties who received the money for Del Prado were also sued.
Del Prado argued that she did not steal any money since she had a deal with Stella Mendez who wanted the money elsewhere and she was going to become half owner of the money. The jury did not believe.
“What the jury heard was our story, which is: ‘You are a manager, you had a fiduciary duty to protect our money, and instead you stole it. You had the ‘intended to steal it and you knew exactly what you were doing, and you stole it like any other criminal would steal any other money,’ Dimond said.
Thomas issued a final judgment and identified assets involving fraudulent transfers. The total jury verdict was $25.6 million.
“One more year to hide”
The pandemic was the biggest challenge during the litigation, as it prolonged the trial.
“It is a burden for the plaintiff and an advantage for the defendant. It’s one more year to hide, one more year to spend,” Dimond said. “The second burden we had to overcome was that the other side didn’t follow the rules. We had repeated penalties and requests and fights over court-ordered penalties and penalties.”
Dimond’s advice? Think of the end of a case as its beginning.
“You have to plead early on expecting a trial, and you have to prepare early on knowing that eventually you will have to try a case in front of a jury,” Dimond said.
The next task? Collect the $25.6 million from Del Prado.
“When someone makes you try a case, argue a case, they tell you ‘you can have that money when you get it out of my cold, dead hands.’ That’s what happened here,” Dimond said. “They took it off our hands and still do because it’s a rare thing in the world of high-end business courts. or high-end commercial litigation for you to go from start to finish and get a jury result.”