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Lawsuit Targets Miami Luxury Homebuilder And 'Band of Thieves'

Three Miami-area homebuyers have filed a lawsuit against a developer of luxury mansions, his business and romantic partner, and three Florida corporations, alleging that they doctored invoices and set up kickback schemes with subcontractors in order to defraud customers.

The Miami area has a high demand for luxury homes.

Francisco "Frank" Mendez, the owner of Pioneer Inter-Development, and Marianna Dubinsky, a Realtor and Pioneer employee who handled client invoicing, are accused of artificially inflating customers' bills. The couple used the spoils to fund an opulent lifestyle, according to a lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on Dec. 23. 

“[Mendez] indulges in extended weekends at the Hard Rock Casino where he gambles hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time and is considered a ‘high roller,'" the complaint alleges. "He drives a 2020 Rolls Royce SUV (when he isn’t driving his 2020 Rolls Royce convertible or his 2020 Range Rover Sport). And he lives in a luxury condo at the SLS Residence in Brickell. But he finances this life of luxury by defrauding his company’s clients.”

Dubinsky's website describes her as a "luxury real estate and lifestyle consultant" and a "construction maven." It says she trained as an attorney at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. She isn't listed as an attorney on the Florida Bar's website. 

“Mendez and his band of thieves must be held accountable,” the complaint states.

John Criste, an attorney at Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, represents the three plaintiffs. Criste told Bisnow that Mendez priced the homes based on his costs plus a fee for his company.

“The fee is typically a percentage of the construction costs, which are integrated into the construction contract as set terms,” the lawsuit states.

During the course of construction, Pioneer, which typically constructs homes of 6K SF to 19K SF and counts Miami Heat player Dion Waiters among its customers, would periodically request “progress payments” from the suing homebuyers and provide copies of its subcontractors’ invoices to support the charges.

“It’s not an unusual type of agreement,” Criste told Bisnow. “What is unusual and frankly improper is for a contractor to inflate his subcontractors’ invoices and, on top of that, his fee.”

Criste said that a married couple, plaintiffs Patricio and Ana Cordero, had already spent two years having a home built by Pioneer when they noticed that work had ground nearly to a halt this summer. When they were asked for a progress payment of $1.8M in September, they balked. 

The Corderos contacted subcontractors directly and discovered discrepancies between their invoices and documentation Pioneer provided. Materials for which they had already fronted money — for instance, Brazilian wood carrying a price tag of $200K and windows priced at $275K — hadn’t even been ordered, the Corderos allege.

The complaint alleges that Pioneer charged the Corderos $600K, then another $617K for concrete that the concrete subcontractor invoiced at approximately $600K.

Mendez overpaid the subcontractor, according to the suit, and instructed it to deduct the amount it was owed and transfer the overpayment to three corporations run by other parties: VRG Remodeling Construction Group Corp., SDG Remodeling Construction Group Corp. and Emgei Finish Services. These entities would collect commissions and return the rest of the funds to Mendez. The three corporations are named as defendants in the lawsuit. 

Trevor Taylor, another homebuyer, also had a home under construction by Pioneer. He was suspicious after construction had been grinding on for three years.

Taylor paid Pioneer $1.8M that the developer claimed was reimbursement for a concrete subcontractor, according to the complaint. But invoices directly from the subcontractor showed that Pioneer’s costs had been approximately $1.2M. Taylor also found that Pioneer double-billed him $11,139 for windows and $43K for glass, as well as allegedly fabricating an invoice for $44,695.

Taylor and the Corderos are suing for civil conspiracy, fraud and unjust enrichment. Criste said his clients are actually lucky.

“My clients are in the position that they can hire a lawyer, hire a new contractor to finish the job," he said. "There are other people who don't have the means. For those people, what Mendez and Pioneer are doing would rob them of their entire homes.”

Christopher M. Utrera and Herman Russomanno III, attorneys for Mendez, told the Miami Herald that the developer “denies any and all wrongdoing and that their client looks forward to proving the same in Court.”

Utrera did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Bisnow Tuesday.