New litigation turns nasty as countersuit moves forward
By Paul Brinkmann, South Florida Business Journal
A bitter legal fight has erupted between one of South Florida’s biggest business celebrities, Jeffrey Soffer of the Turnberry companies, and Bruce Weiner, a former CEO of Turnberry Residential LP.
The litigation has turned nasty, with Weiner alleging that Soffer siphoned millions of dollars from Turnberry companies for “upkeep of his baronial lifestyle.” The suit is the latest in a string of legal and financial entanglements for Soffer, who was forced to abandon his largest project, the $3 billion Fontainebleau Las Vegas, in a bankruptcy.
Soffer is famous for flashy spending, driving racecars and dating supermodels including Elle Macpherson. Weiner takes direct aim at those spending habits in his lawsuit.
“Among the dramatic examples of Jeff Soffer’s abuse … was a multimillion-dollar 40th birthday he threw for himself that was headlined by a live performance by Prince,” Weiner alleges in his complaint. Tabloids estimated the party alone cost $2 million.
Soffer fired the first shot in the battle. After firing Weiner in May 2010, he alleged in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court that Weiner betrayed Turnberry by privately negotiating to provide development services to Orlando-based Starwood Vacation Ownership on its new project, the St. Regis Bal Harbor Resort.
Turnberry alleged that Weiner, as CEO of Turnberry Residential, violated his fiduciary duties as an officer by forming a new company – Bal Star LLC – and arranging the Starwood deal. Turnberry alleged Weiner had the obligation to bring the St. Regis deal to them. Also named in the suit is Robert Vollrath, Turnberry’s former CFO.
“We’ve alleged that Turnberry, at this point, owns the Starwood deal,” Turnberry attorney Michael Olin said. “Turnberry made these guys very wealthy people. At the end of the day, they went off on their own and took the Starwood deal for themselves. They violated all their fiduciary duties to their employer.”
Circuit Judge Gill Freeman rejected Turnberry’s first complaint, telling attorneys it was not clear enough about the corporate structure of the Turnberry companies and what duties Weiner and Vollrath owed to them. The company is preparing to refile the suit.
In the meantime, Weiner filed his own counterclaim against Turnberry, naming Soffer and his sister, Jacquelyn Soffer in the suit.
Fort Lauderdale lawyer Tom Angelo is one of Weiner’s attorneys.
“Their filing the lawsuit necessitated Bruce filing his counterclaim,” Angelo said. “Bruce felt it was very unfortunate, given the fact he was there 20 years, working with them.”
According to Weiner’s lawsuit, he was a 5 percent owner of Turnberry Residential. The suit says he and the Soffers took out loans from Turnberry Residential when it was financed in 2004 with a $200 million loan and credit line from Prudential Real Estate Investors.
Weiner’s lawsuit says he repaid his loan of $4 million within the required two years. But, he alleges that Jeffrey Soffer took out $100 million and Jacquelyn Soffer took out $40 million, and that the two combined failed to repay a combined $40 million by the end of 2008.
According to Weiner’s suit, the Soffers then caused the company to “reclassify” the loans as distributions, without offering Weiner the same privilege. Weiner alleges he should have received 5 percent of that $40 million distribution.
Weiner also alleges he is still owed money from commissions on sales at Turnberry’s 1881 Rosslyn, a large luxury condominium in Arlington, Va., with views of the Washington Monument.
Olin scoffed at the notion that Turnberry owes any money to Weiner. “He’s out to lunch,” he said of Weiner’s claims.
The Turnberry complaint alleges that Weiner and Vollrath were so wrapped up in their Starwood plans that they allowed costly delays at the 1881 Rosslyn project.
Despite the litigation, Turnberry’s website still referred to Weiner as the CEO of Turnberry Residential on Feb. 22. It calls Weiner “a driving force in the development and sales of more than 16,000 homes” and “a highly regarded real estate development, sales and marketing executive.”
Turnberry’s media office said in an e-mail that it does not comment on litigation.
Angelo said Weiner was not bound by any non-compete clause: “In fact, he had a contract as a partner that specifically allowed him to do business outside of Turnberry.”
Weiner’s counterclaim alleges that Jacquelyn Soffer twice ordered audits of funds she and her brother received, and that the audits determined Weiner should have also received distributions. The suit does not elaborate on Jacquelyn Soffer’s motive for the audits or the results of the audits.
Miami real estate consultant Lewis Goodkin said Turnberry has so far weathered the economic downturn, but the end of the current real estate crisis is proving a bitter chapter for many similar companies.
“Relationships like theirs usually don’t go sour until the market goes sour,” Goodkin said. “That’s the kind of mess that we see people get into.”
A lawsuit by a former Turnberry Residential executive alleges that Jeffrey Soffer used advances from his companies to fund a lavish lifestyle. The suit alleges Soffer’s extravagant expenses in recent years included:
- Two 100-foot-plus yachts.
- A $170 million, 257-foot mega yacht employing a 23-person crew.
- Building and furnishing a 22,000-square-foot waterfront mansion in Indian Creek, now assessed at about $14 million.
- A $36.5 million private, gated estate on Star Mountain in Aspen, Colo.
- A fleet of Ferrari racecars.
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