Monday, May 22, 2017

Welcomed Two Years Ago By Trusting Residents In Troubled Condo To Straighten Out HOA's Operation, Court-Appointed Receiver Now Faces The Boot After Belting Unwitting Owners With Over $2 Million In Legal & Administrative Fees

In Miami, Florida, the Miami Herald reports:
  • They welcomed him with open arms, because they thought he was their salvation.

    In March of 2015, a judge assigned a professional to rescue a 310-unit condominium in Miami Gardens, at the request of lawyers for Miami-Dade County. The “receiver” was to collect payments in arrears, correct dangerous code violations, carry out repairs and settle county fines running in the millions.

    Eleventh District Circuit Court Judge Eric Hendon named former judge Jorge J. Pérez as the receiver.

    Owners at the Mirassou condos — mostly working class people like teachers, mechanics and nurses — said they did not know how much the receiver was going to cost them. The judge's order said only that the costs should be “reasonable.”

    But two years later, the owners are now asking Hendon to remove Pérez, who along with his team is charging more than $2 million. The condo collected only about $900,000 in the past two years, and still owes millions of dollars in fines to the county.

    “We are poor families. We live on a salary. We're not millionaires, and now we have to pay that man nearly $2 million,” said owner and school counselor Tania Portela. “Where are we going to get that money?”

    Pérez is now seeking a loan from TotalBank so that he can be paid money owed to him and his team, according to a letter submitted as part of the court case.

    Mirassou owners would pay off the loan over seven years in a special assessment that would add nearly $100 to their monthly maintenance bills, which range from $220 to $375.

    Judge Hendon was scheduled to rule on the loan during a hearing Friday [May 19], but he recused himself from the case on Thursday morning. According to court documents, the judge wanted to “avoid the appearance of impropriety” after receiving an “exparte communication” from Pérez at 12:21 a.m. Thursday. In an email, Pérez asks Hendon “as a friend, an officer of the court and your receiver and friend” to “impose full control of the courtroom Friday” by not allowing cameras in the hearing.

    Pérez’s request came following a report aired on Wednesday by Univisión 23 of an investigation with el Nuevo Herald on the Mirassou receivership case. In his letter, Pérez called the news report “lies” and said his mother was “in a fragile state” as a result of seeing him “being slandered” on TV.
    ***
    Several owners said they did not know that they had the right to object, or that they had to do it in writing. They also did not know that information about Pérez’s fees are available on the court's Web page.

    We were blind, in part because of our ignorance and in part because we trusted [the system],” said María Roque, a teacher and board member of the Mirassou association.

    “He was the law, picked by a judge to save us,” added Portela.
    ***
    Overall, the records showed Pérez and his team billed about $2.6 million. The owners' association has only collected $970,000 in the past two years, according to a March 10 report in the court files.

    Your honor, it's like we needed to paint a wall ...and you forced us to hire Michelangelo,” Pedro Ortega, who owns several apartments in Mirassou, told the judge during a court hearing in February.
    ***
    Pérez faced similar complaints in a 2013 case still pending in federal bankruptcy court in South Florida.

    In that case, Pérez angered owners of the luxury One Bal Harbor Resort and Spa when he billed $2.4 million for 18 months of work as receiver.

    “The receiver and his law firm systematically exploited their appointment as a fiduciaries by the state court as a bottomless trough to enable a feeding frenzy to line the pockets of those involved,” wrote Charles Tatelbaum, the attorney who represented some owners in that case.

    A negotiated agreement reduced Pérez's fees by 50 percent, to $1.4 million, but some of the owners are still contesting the fees in court.

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