Bidders will get a shot this week to buy an unfinished waterfront home in Fort Lauderdale and luxury vehicles, as a receiver seeks to recover money for 15,000 consumers who lost more than $80 million to an alleged debt relief scheme operated in Pompano Beach and Panama.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga entered a preliminary injunction that halted the operation led by South Florida residents Jeremy Lee Marcus, Craig Smith and Yisbet Segrea. Their business, the Federal Trade Commission and the Florida State Attorney General alleged in a civil complaint, used more than a dozen different companies — including 321 Loans Inc., Helping America Group, Instahelp America Inc. and Financial Freedom National Inc. — to fool consumers into thinking they would receive help to get out of debt.
The court named Miami attorney Jonathan Perlman as receiver and commissioned him to recover whatever he could for consumers. Perlman said Monday that, to date, he and his legal team have identified $32 million in assets for recovery. These include the soon-to-be auctioned home at 630 SW 25th Ave. in Fort Lauderdale, as well as a Tesla, BMW and luxury buses. The receiver also has taken over a second home worth more than $5.25 million in Fort Lauderdale, as well as claims for unpaid loans that Marcus made to a coal mine operator in Kentucky.
“We continue to liquidate the assets we have acquired, seek to obtain additional assets that we believe should be part of the receivership, and investigate and bring lawsuits against third parties that we believe are liable for their role in the scam,” Perlman said.
The first auction is set for noon Tuesday at the site of the business’ old headquarters, at 1410 SW 3rd St., Pompano Beach. Bids will be taken for a white, 2014 Tesla Model S P85+ with beige leather interior; a 2015 two-door, six-speed automatic BMW i8 Hybrid Supercar; a 2015, eight-speed automatic Land Rover Range Rover; and two custom luxury school buses that are both over a decade old.
The cars and buses can be inspected at the site between 9 a.m. and noon. Participants can also bid online at proxibid.com. The auction is being conducted by Moecker Auctions Inc. of Fort Lauderdale. For more information, call 800-840-BIDS.
The second auction — for the unfinished waterfront home — is set for 11 a.m. Friday at the Fort Lauderdale office of Genovese Joblove & Battista, the law firm that employs Perlman. The address is 200 E. Broward Blvd., Suite 1110. The minimum starting bid for the property is $1.03 million, and all bidders must be qualified by the receiver by March 21. Interested bidders should contact Jason Welt of Trustee Realty Inc. at 954-803-0790.
The case arose from a complaint filed last year by the FTC and state Attorney General Pam Bondi, who claimed the three men spent four years misleading thousands of distressed consumers, many of whom were elderly or disabled. The FTC and state alleged the companies falsely claimed that they would pay, settle or win outright dismissals of consumer debts in court.
Before the court shut the operation, defense lawyers argued that the FTC and state showed a “clear misunderstanding” of the business’ program and that allegations that they performed no work for consumers were “resoundingly false.” They argued the companies had created a program for consumers “like no other” in that it included “much more active engagement, providing debt validation, credit repair and litigation.”
The companies were alleged to have claimed nonprofit status to help them appear more credible in the eyes of consumers, pitching their plans to consumers through telephoned sales pitches or via the internet.
The complaint alleged the various companies used false and deceptive sales practices urging consumers to bundle all of their balances into a single loan that would allow consumers to make small monthly payments at low interest rates. But the state and federal regulators alleged there were no loans, and that the defendant companies rarely used the money they took from consumers to repay debts. In the end, the consumers still owed creditors their original debts plus interest.
Some consumers ended up defaulting on their debts or filed for personal bankruptcy.
Perlman said he has no information on when or how victims can receive repayments. Those logistics are up to the FTC. For more information, go to 321loansreceivership.com.
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David Lyons can be reached at 954-356-4340, [email protected] twitter: @davidvlyons