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Builder of collapsed Surfside condo was a partner in project that went bust

Ron Hurtibise, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

Nevertheless, Broward County official records reveal the units sold rapidly in what turned out to be a vastly overpriced market. More than 200 of the 377 units sold between April 2006 and December 2007, at prices ranging from $139,900 to $298,000.

It wasn’t long afterward before the housing boom came to an end. Only another 30 or so units sold in 2008.

From 2007 to 2010, new owners of Club Caribe condos were hit with 179 foreclosure suits. While foreclosures came at a rapid pace after the 2008 financial collapse, 179 suits in a 377-unit complex is “outrageous,” said Douglas Jeffrey, a Miami Lakes attorney who defended borrowers in foreclosure suits after the housing market crash.

One of the only reasons such a large percentage of foreclosures could have happened so quickly after homeowners bought their new units was if their lenders allowed them to sign contracts without properly evaluating their ability to make their mortgage payments — a common issue that helped trigger the Great Recession, Jeffrey said.

By the time they were served with their foreclosure suits, they likely didn’t know how to defend themselves, Jeffrey said. “These were people who didn’t know what they were doing,” he said, “so they just let their properties go.”

Ocean Bank, which lent Wolfarth $59 million to finance the apartment complex purchase in 2005, filed its own foreclosure suit in December 2008 against the Wolfarths, Club Caribe Associates Inc., South Bay Plantation Associates and the four Reiber family members, seeking all unsold Club Caribe units.

Lawsuits shed light on involvement

On April 9, 2010, the Wolfarths filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection from creditors on behalf of another of his troubled companies, Village at Dadeland Associates LLC.

Units in that condominium complex, on Southwest 82nd Street in Miami, had been taken over by a receiver in June 2009 and the Wolfarths were ordered to turn over title to 15 units after a judge determined their company had stopped paying maintenance fees for the units while still pocketing rent payments.

The bankruptcy petition filed in federal court listed Nathan and Carolee Reiber and Mark and Jill Meland as unsecured creditors. Each couple invested $1 million with the Wolfarths, and each owned a 25% share of the company.

 

Yet, that doesn’t explain why the Reibers were sued, along with the Wolfarths, by the bank that financed the Club Caribe loan, and Broward County Circuit Court’s online database does not store images of complaints filed prior to 2010.

A 2012 federal court complaint filed in the Village at Dadeland Associates bankruptcy case pointed to a possible reason why.

The Reibers and Melands, the complaint said, went into the partnership with the Wolfarths in 2004 “for the purpose of condominium conversions and to get in on the real estate bubble.”

To avoid exposing revenues from condo sales to their creditor, Ocean Bank, the company “transferred numerous sums of money ... from the sale of the condominium units straight from the closing agent to [the Wolfarths], or for the benefit of the [Wolfarths] and all other Managing Members,” the complaint states

The transfers, the complaint states, “were all a part of a design and scheme to defraud the creditors ... and indeed did defraud said creditors.”

Despite the accusations, no one faced criminal charges. Charges of wrongdoing in real estate were rampant after the economic crash, but most cases were resolved outside of the criminal system.

Both the Club Caribe lawsuit and Village at Dadeland bankruptcy case, which did not name the Reiber family members as defendants, were settled. The Reibers and the Melands were removed as defendants in the Club Caribe foreclosure suit before it was resolved.

Control of Club Caribe was transferred to a receiver, who sold it to a company formed by Isram Realty Group for $8.2 million. And today, Club Caribe is again operating as an apartment complex, with Isram owning 200 of its units, according to a Broward County property search.

It’s tucked away just east of State Road 7, north of the Sawgrass Expressway and next to a Hampton Inn and Suites. And if you zoom into an aerial map on the Club Caribe Apartments website, you’ll see the “preserve” is still there.

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