Love Gone Bad or Fraud? Miami Attorney, Belgian Firm Feud Over $13.5M Investment

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Love Gone Bad or Fraud? Miami Attorney, Belgian Firm Feud Over $13.5M Investment

A Miami international tax attorney and a Belgian firm are fighting over a host of Coral Gables mansions and other properties—with the attorney blaming her vengeful ex-fiance and the Belgian firm claiming she committed fraud.

Agorive NV sued attorney Suzanne DeWitt, claiming the company and its predecessor, agrochemical business Percival SA, had hired her to help with their $13.5 million investment in real estate here. Instead, she has kept the properties and their rental income and lives in one of the Gables homes, according to the lawsuit.

Most of the properties are homes in the Gables and unincorporated Miami-Dade County, although some are empty lots, according to court filings and the county property appraiser’s office.

Dyanne Feinberg, DeWitt’s attorney, said DeWitt wasn’t an attorney for Agorive or Percival but was the fiancee of Percival’s former owner, Belgian Marc Van Moerbeke. Feinberg said Van Moerbeke is 30 years older than Dewitt and that they had a 10-year relationship — during which he gifted her the properties to financially secure her and her now 2-year-old daughter. Feinberg is a senior attorney and of counsel at Kozyak Tropin Throckmorton.

The lawsuit claiming DeWitt stole the properties was filed as revenge by Van Moerbeke after she broke off their engagement, Feinberg added.

Van Moerbeke, who isn’t a plaintiff in Agorive’s lawsuit against DeWitt and isn’t mentioned in the complaint, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.  

Damian & Valori managing partner Peter Valori filed Agorive’s lawsuit. Valori — who represents Van Moerbeke in a different lawsuit, this one filed by DeWitt against Van Moerbeke — didn’t respond by deadline to requests for comment on the accusation that the Agorive suit was filed for revenge. He allowed only that his team will file a court response.

Here’s what happened, according to Agorive’s July 16 lawsuit against DeWitt: As attorney to Percival and later Agorive, DeWitt guided the companies to the properties, closed the buys and advised on the structure of the investments for legal and tax purposes. She set up 17 limited liability companies, one for each property purchased with Percival and later Agorive, transferring money to bank accounts affiliated with each LLC to fund the buys. The understanding was that sole ownership of the LLCs would be transferred to Percival and to Agorive. Percival transferred all its equity ownership in the LLCs to Agorive.

LLCs are commonly used to buy South Florida real estate.

“Rather than investing and protecting Agorive’s investments, however, Ms. DeWitt took Agorive’s investments and assets for herself, and now claims … that Agorive’s $13.5 million investments were a gift to her personally,” Valori wrote in the complaint.

Feinberg doesn’t dispute the entire sequence of events, as she also said the properties were bought with money first put into the LLCs, but it was Van Moerbeke who gave the money as a personal gift to DeWitt.

“He gave her the money. We are going to show in the evidence. It was a very long relationship,” she said. “He was charming. He was handsome. He wined and dined her.”

DeWitt also owns all of the LLCs, therefore she owns all of the properties, Feinberg said.

“If Ms. DeWitt claims ownership of the LLCs in court, we will be presenting strong contrary evidence, including her own statements to the contrary,” Valori responded. ”Our clients look forward presenting the court with their proof of the allegations set forth the complaint and motion for preliminary injunction.”

Valori filed July 30 an emergency motion for preliminary injunction and asked the court to appoint a receiver for the properties, saying that DeWitt took out a $5.5 million loan against the real estate. He also filed emails between DeWitt and Van Moerbeke in which she attached documents for some of the LLCs discussing their corporate structure as well as their tax returns.

Valori has argued that DeWitt hasn’t responded to requests from Agorive to turn in financial and other records for the LLCs.

Another lawyer for Agorive, Ronald Albert Jr., sent DeWitt a letter on June 4 asking her to submit financial statements, federal income tax returns, loan documents and rental agreements, among other records, pertaining to the LLCs. Albert — a partner in Harper Meyer Perez Hagen O’Connor Albert & Dribin — is not on the current litigation pleadings.

In response, on July 8, Feinberg filed suit on behalf of DeWitt against Van Moerbeke, asking the court for declaratory relief that she is the owner of the properties.

Van Moerbeke gave $8 million total for the property purchases with DeWitt now renting out 15 of them, Feinberg said.

In response to questions about how much money Van Moerbeke is said to have given to Dewitt so she could be financially stable, Feinberg said Van Moerbeke is wealthy and pointed to his sale of Percival.

Van Moerbeke sold Percival, the agrochemical business with the trade name Agriphar, for 300 million euros to Dutch company MacDermid Agricultural Solutions Holdings B.V., according to an Aug. 4, 2014, Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

One of the properties in dispute is a 4,058-square-foot, two-story Coral Gables home with four bedrooms and four bathrooms built in 2009 on a 10,300-square-foot lot, into which Agorive put $2.8 million, according to Agorive’s complaint and the property appraiser’s office.

That’s the one in which DeWitt lives with her 2-year-old daughter, Feinberg said.

Agorive also sued Andree Dick, who is identified as DeWitt’s mother and as the manager of the LLCs in DeWitt’s own complaint. The company asks for its money back, for double the rental value for the Gables home where DeWitt lives until she leaves, and for the court to rule that it is indeed the LLCs’ owner.

Its complaint lists breach of fiduciary duty, professional malpractice, fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, fraudulent inducement, negligent misrepresentation, promissory estoppel, conversion, unjust enrichment, equitable lien, unlawful detainer, declaratory judgment and accounting claims. In an amended complaint, it also lists theft and injunctive relief counts.

Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko held a hearing Thursday on Feinberg’s motions to dismiss Agorive’s complaint and for a release of the lis pendens Valori has filed for each of the properties. The hearing also was on Valori’s emergency motion for preliminary injunction and to appoint a receiver for the properties.

The hearing was pending Thursday at press time.

 

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