Real estate agent

New charges for real estate agent guilty of home fraud

From left to right: Yovany Serna and Vivian Rodriguez (Circuit Court of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County, Florida, iStock / Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

A Miami couple found guilty this month in a $ 1.8 million house flip plan now have more problems.

Vivian Rodriguez and her husband Yovany Serna were charged with new charges, this time with suspected rental fraud, less than two weeks after their conviction.

Rodriguez, 53, and Serna, 52, carried out the house-overthrow scheme from June 2016 to December 2017, targeting a man from Hialeah Gardens, according to their arrest affidavit. The duo won his trust and promised him profits. Rodriguez, who was a real estate agent at the time, had worked on the deal in which the victim bought her own home, according to the 2018 affidavit.

Rodriguez told him that she would help him choose cheap accessories to buy and that Serna would fix them, the affidavit states. Then they would sell the properties and share the profits.

The man from Hialeah Gardens invested $ 1.8 million to buy about 30 homes, but they weren’t even for sale, according to the affidavit.

Rodriguez was an agent for Trex International Realty, based in Hialeah. She lost her license in March after failing to renew it, not because of the charges, state records show.

After the victim became doubtful and worried, he hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in December 2017.

Criminal charges followed. After a trial that ran from December 6 to 10, a jury found Rodriguez and Serna guilty of money laundering, organized fraud and first degree robbery. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 30 years.

Jorge Alonso, Rodriguez’s lawyer in the criminal case, said the lawsuit found she returned $ 400,000 to the Hialeah Gardens man and his wife, but the rest were misappropriated. The affidavit also states that the victim was robbed of just over $ 1.4 million.

“I did my best not to have Vivian testify and plead the fifth, but she insisted,” Alonso said. “She basically admitted that she owed these people money. So there wasn’t much I could do for her.

Rodriguez and Serna remain in custody and await their sentencing date. Serna’s attorney made no comment.

No more problems

Rodriguez and Serna reportedly committed another scam in November. A man told police that, in desperate need of an apartment, he found Rodriguez through a Facebook Marketplace ad for a Hialeah Efficiency, according to a Dec. 22 arrest affidavit.

After a tour of the property with Rodriguez, he agreed to rent it out and paid the $ 1,000 cash deposit Rodriguez requested and received a handwritten receipt. When his move-in date was twice delayed, he became suspicious and returned to Efficiency where he found other apartment hunters with the same history as his, the affidavit states. There, they searched for Rodriguez and Serna online and found information on their house overthrow charges.

Another arrest affidavit says Rodriguez and Serna repaid another victim’s bond with $ 360 in cash and the remainder with a check, which was bounced. Property records show that neither Rodriguez nor Serna owns the Hialeah house.

The wife and husband have each been charged with organized fraud and third degree robbery. Rodriguez was also charged with unlawful use of a communications device and Serna with conspiracy to commit grand theft in an amount between $ 5,000 and $ 20,000, according to the records.

The public defender representing Rodriguez and Serna did not immediately return a request for comment.

The lawyer who is suing the couple over the house overthrow project says their convictions are helping his case. The lawsuit claims the fraud was a family affair that also involved Rodriguez’s son Hotniel Crespo and his wife, Marbelis Crespo, a real estate agent. Trex, the brokerage firm for which Rodriguez and Marbelis Crespo were independent contractors, is also a defendant.

The family described the house overthrow as a team effort, with Hotniel Crespo telling the alleged victim that he and his wife had also invested money in real estate, that he had gone to see the properties and that they are all “very rich,” according to the complaint.

The lawsuit claims Rodriguez was trained in Trex’s “high pressure sales tactics” and that the brokerage gave him credibility. Some of the meetings between the victim and Rodriguez took place at the Trex offices and she had business cards issued by Trex.

In a statement, Trex’s attorney said the brokerage was unaware of the transactions and received no money from them.

“Trex had nothing to do with fraudulent real estate transactions,” said attorney, Jesus Bujan. “Trex was not the listing agent or the cooperating agent in any of the real estate properties involved.”

Court records show that a fraud claim in the civil action against Trex was dismissed. The lawsuit also charged the brokerage with breach of fiduciary duty and negligence in retention and supervision.

Counsel for the Crespos did not immediately return a request for comment. Hotniel Crespo, reached by phone, hung up. He filed for bankruptcy in May.

In a September court filing, the Crespos denied the allegations made against them, saying they were also duped into believing the investments were legitimate and that they were the victims of a Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Rodriguez.

Marbelis Crespo sued Rodriguez, claiming she invested $ 400,000 in the home flipping business, leaving her and her family homeless. Crespo’s real estate license remains active, according to state archives.

Douglas Jeffrey, the lawyer who first investigated the alleged fraud and filed the civil case, is asking bankruptcy court not to pay off any debt Crespo owed to the Hialeah Gardens victim. The motion argues that Crespo knew or should have known that he was leading the victim into a fraudulent scheme.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, tried to get the Crespos off a hook. She signed an affidavit in court in August saying she urged them to invest $ 400,000 and they believed it was a legitimate investment, knew nothing of what happened to the money and knowingly played no part in the alleged fraud.

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