Edgardo Defortuna has been flying high for years, hiring star architects and erecting a string of ultra-luxury condo and hotel towers on his way to becoming one of Miami’s most prominent developers. He recently announced his first foray outside South Florida, unveiling a design for a trio of luxury towers in Paraguay.
But three separate lawsuits against Defortuna and his Fortune International Group suggests there may be a dark side to the Argentine-born developer’s success story. The complainants contend Defortuna has engaged in a series of dirty tricks, cheating small investors and lenders in one of his signature projects, and blocking the sale of a small condo next to another project through subterfuge to thwart potential competition.
In the first lawsuit, three plaintiffs — Spartan Lending, Capital Building and Florida Beach Investment — allege Defortuna falsely claimed a massive loss on his $200 million Jade Ocean luxury tower in Sunny Isles Beach while awarding inflated fees to corporate affiliates he controlled, essentially paying himself at the plaintiffs’ expense.
On Monday, barring a last-minute settlement, a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge will rule whether the plaintiffs’ complaints should move forward to an immediate trial.
In court pleadings, Defortuna and his attorneys have denied those claims.
”This lawsuit is completely without merit and I look forward to the date that the court dismisses these false and unsubstantiated claims, once and for all,” Defortuna said in an email statement to the Herald.
But the plaintiffs have already made a little headway in the case. On Dec. 4, Judge William Thomas ruled in favor of Spartan and Capital on some of their claims, finding that they are entitled to repayment of their respective $250,000 loans to the Jade project, along with 18 percent interest, collection costs and attorney fees.
“We are pleased that Judge Thomas ruled that Fortune Ocean must repay the outstanding loans with interest and attorneys’ fees,” said Jennifer Recine, a partner with Kasowitz Benson Torres, the firm representing Spartan, Capital and Florida Beach. “The trial will 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.”