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Questions about a pocket item by Coral Gables City Attorney Miriam Soler Ramos at the end of the April 12th City Commission meeting were answered today, as six Miami-Dade Police officers showed up at the Coral Gables Country Club and removed the tenants on behalf of a court appointed receiver.
Soler Ramos had brought up a last minute item asking that the Commission to authorize any necessary legal actions relating to the Coral Gables Country Club.
At 7:46PM that evening, the City of Coral Gables filed a motion at the 11th Judicial Circuit Court to request that the Court appoint a receiver and allow such receiver to take possession of the premises of the Country Club.
At around noon on April 13th, six Miami-Dade County Police units arrived at the Club and asked the tenants to vacate the premises and hand possession to the receiver.
“To protect a valuable and historic city asset, the Coral Gables Country Club the city petitioned, and a Judge granted an emergency injunction appointing Joel H. Brown, Esq. as receiver on April 12. This helps insure a smooth transition of operations from the current operator, Coral Grand, LLC. Additionally, a receiver was necessary because the current operators have stated that they will remove many items that are part of this facility not only causing considerable damage to this historic building but delaying the re-start of operations. In fact, yesterday when Coral Grand management was asked to vacate the premises, they attempted to remove the computer server and other items in the presence of the receiver. The city is committed to working cooperatively with the receiver as he operates the club and safeguards the interests of all Coral Gables residents. It is important that Fitness Club members and entities and/or people that have scheduled events at the club this month should rest assured that the Coral Gables Country Club remains open and operational,” said City Manager Peter Iglesias.
Coral Gables Grand Files Motion
At 11:11PM on April 13th, Coral Gables Grand filed an emergency motion with the Court to dissolve the receivership, requesting an emergency hearing on April 14th.
Judge Recuses Herself
Just before 1:00PM on April 14th, Judge Maria de Jesus Santovenia who had been assigned the case, entered an order recusing herself. “The undersigned Circuit Court Judge hereby recuses herself from further consideration of this case. This case shall be reassigned to another section of the Circuit Civil Division in accordance with established procedures.” reads the Judge’s order.
The lease extension negotiations between Coral Gables Grand and the City has been widely reported on. Gables Insider provided a detailed timeline in The Coral Gables Country Club: The Facts As We Know Them in October of 2021.
The lease is set to expire on April 30th, and Coral Gables Grand contractually has a 30 day period to vacate the premises. The Commission has decided that the Coral Gables Community Recreation Department will take over the Country Club’s management going forward.
The City had been in negotiations with Coral Gables Grand for purchase of furniture currently being used in the facility. Gables Insider has learned the City had hired an appraiser to provide a value for the furnishings. However, Coral Gables Grand did not agree with said valuations. The sides were far apart.
Seemingly, conversations between the two reached a stalemate.
The City’s Motion
In its filing, the City argues that “left with no alternative, the City seeks the entry of an Order to appoint a receiver or to enjoin its Tenant in an effort to protect the historical Coral Gables Country Club, a property stewarded by the City for the benefit of its citizens.”
Naming Coral Gables Grand’s principals, the City states that: “Just a few months ago, the City learned that the Defendants—through their managers…have been defrauding the City. The Di Donatos concealed from the City that they had established an alter ego corporation, Coral Gables Athletic Club, LP (the “Sub-Tenant”), to sublet and manage the Fitness Center. Per the Lease (defined supra), the City must authorize all subleases and must be informed of any management agreements between the Tenant and another entity. However, the Di Donatos never informed the City of the sublease or the management agreement. By hiding this information, the Di Donatos deprived the City of crucial data needed to calculate the percentage rent owed. The City presumes the Di Donato’s motive in establishing and concealing this Tenant-Sub-Tenant relationship was to obtain a windfall at the expense of the citizens of the City. Upon learning of this deception a few months ago, the City, on numerous occasions, requested from the Tenant the information necessary to conduct an audit to determine if the City is owed additional Percentage Rent, as defined in the Lease. To date, no such information has been provided, and instead, the Tenant has sought to hide behind language contained in a settlement document procured by Tenant under false pretenses. The Tenant’s last date of operations and end of the Extended Operating Period (lease term) is April 30, 2022. Thereafter, based on the statements of the Di Donatos, they intend to use the next 30 days (through May 30, 2022) to remove marble from columns, tear out speakers and other sound equipment, remove counters and other items deemed fixtures, and load everything up in a truck that is headed for Canada where Nick resides and runs other businesses.”
The City’s filing, prepared by outside counsels Anna Marie Gamez of Holland & Knight and Israel Reyes of The Reyes Law Firm, presents 46 items in a “factual background” before making its legal arguments and request from the court.
The City’s request from the Court is as follows: “(1) that the Court appoint a Receiver acceptable to the Court for the historical property and improvements, and the goods, chattels, fixtures, equipment and other items of personal and intangible property encumbered by the Lease and empower said Receiver, (i) to take possession of the historical Property and the entire Premises, and secure it pending final determination of this case, including taking such steps as may be necessary to enter into, receive, recover and take complete, entire and exclusive possession of the Property; (ii) to take such action as is reasonably necessary to maintain and secure the Property from theft, vandalism, deterioration, and other damage; (iii) to engage in the necessary daily maintenance to preserve and protect the Property and to secure the Property to prevent injury to persons coming thereon; (iv) to protect the Property from attachments for failure to pay debts or obligations when due; (v) to borrow money through issuance of Receiver’s Certificates necessary to pay bills and expenses necessary to perform his or her duties as Receiver; (vi) to collect all Gross Revenues from the operation and management of the Premises and Property; (vii) to exercise otherwise the duties of a Receiver as provided by law; (2) that the costs, expenses, and monies of the Receiver as provided by law be taxed as costs herein; (3) that the Court enter an injunction pendente lite enjoining Tenant from in any way interfering with the possession of the Property by the Court-appointed Receiver; and (4) that the Court grant such other and further relief as shall be appropriate.”
The Court Appointed Receiver
The court appointed receiver is Joel H. Brown, Esq. Brown is the former Chief Judge of the 11th Judicial Circuit Court, and is presently at Freidin Brown, P.A. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1971 and is a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer and a Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediator. The goal of the receiver is to ensure that current member’s services remain in place and uninterrupted.
Coral Gables Grand’s Motion
Coral Gables Grand’s attorney, David Winker, filed an emergency motion to dissolve the receivership at 11:11PM on April 13th. The motion begins with a quote by Karl Mark, “The theory of the Communists may be summed up in a single sentence: abolition of private property.”
It continues, “Undersigned counsel is going to be blunt- in almost thirty years of practice I have never
seen such a blatant attempt to misuse the Court as Plaintiff’s corrupt effort to steal Defendant’s private property. American citizens do not normally have to be worried about government officials obtaining secret orders in the middle of the night to seize their private property. But that is exactly what happened last night (April 12, 2022) at 7:46 pm, when Plaintiff was somehow able to get Judge Carlos Lopez, the Miami-Dade County Judge assigned to after-hours duty, to sign the ex parte Order attached as Exhibit A in the middle of the night (the ex parte Order does not appear on the docket). And this morning, in violation of Florida law and the due process constitutional protections in the U.S. and Florida constitutions, the City government of Coral Gables with the assistance of Miami-Dade police officers threw Defendants’ representatives off the property and seized Defendants’ private property (and even its bank accounts) without a hearing or even a chance to respond. This despite the fact that the parties
entered into a Settlement Agreement that gives possession of the premises to Defendants until April 30. Of course, none of this is legal. ‘Shocks the conscious’ is often misused, but here it is an understatement. And to add insult to injury, the Plaintiff misrepresented facts to the Court in an ex parte Motion filled with libelous untruths. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 9 of the Florida
Constitution both state: ‘No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.’ The ex parte temporary injunction appointing receiver must be dissolved because it violates the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, well-settled Florida case law, and Defendant’s core due process and property rights under the Florida and United States.”
Special Shade Commission Meeting
The Coral Gables City Commission will hold a special “shade” meeting on Thursday, April 14th at 8:30AM to discuss the litigation with counsel. The meeting is not open to the public.
As the agenda reads, “Attorney-Client Executive/Shade session closed to the public for the purpose of discussing the litigation styled City of Coral Gables v. Coral Grand, LLC, et al ., Case No. 2022-006722-CA-01. This session may be attended by the following individuals: Mayor Vince Lago, Vice Mayor Michael Mena, Commissioner Jorge Fors, Jr ., Commissioner Rhonda Anderson, Commissioner Kirk Menendez, City Manager Peter Iglesias, City Attorney Miriam Soler Ramos, Deputy City Attorney Cristina M. Suarez, Special Counsel Vivian de las Cuevas-Diaz, Annie Gamez, Israel Reyes, and Christopher Reyes. A certified court reporter will be present to ensure that the session is fully transcribed, and the transcript will be made available to the public upon the conclusion of the above -styled litigation. At the conclusion of the attorney-client session, the public meeting will be reopened, and termination of the attorney-client session will be announced”