Attorney General Schneiderman recovers cash swindled in condo scam pitched by politician (Punta Cana)
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has secured a measure of justice for nearly 90 New York area immigrants victimized in an international real estate scam.
The commercials tied to the swindle offered a dream home in Pueblo Bávaro, a new, gated, full-service condo community near the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana resort region — for just $40,000 to $90,000.
They appeared on local Spanish-language TV from 2004 to 2011, and they seemed especially legitimate because the salesman they featured, Danilo Díaz, was not simply the owner and developer of Pueblo Bávaro, he was a top political leader in the Dominican Republic.
Díaz is special assistant to the country’s president, Danilo Medina, and is also head of electoral affairs for the ruling Dominican Liberation Party. Before that, he was chief of immigration in the cabinet of Medina’s predecessor, Leonel Fernández.
But Pueblo Bávaro quickly turned into a nightmare for Dominican New Yorkers who shelled out from $9,000 to $33,000 in down payments at the Rivas Travel Agency in Washington Heights, a local firm that helped market the condos for Díaz.
Many of those buyers never got the home they were promised. Others waited years for their condo, then received no legal title, or discovered squatters when they tried to move in. As for the advertised amenities, the place was a slum, according to court papers filed by Schneiderman.
No gas service, no garbage collection, no security. Poorly kept roads. Algae in the community pool. Abandoned cars littering the grounds. Some buyers shipped furniture to their new homes only to find it vandalized or stolen.
Luz Cruzado and her husband Wilfredo Medina gave an $18,000 down payment in September 2004 for a $60,000 unit.
“Within a year and a half, they gave us the apartment unfinished,” Cruzado said. “ They demanded the rest of the money and gave us a sales contract but never gave us title to the property.”
Margarita Corporan, an accountant from New Jersey, attended a meeting in Washington Heights in 2007 where Danilo Díaz promoted his project to about 50 attendees.
“He was well-known back home as a government official and he practically assured us the government was backing the project,” Corporan said.
After visiting the development, she and her husband handed Díaz’s company, Consorcio Empresarial Emproy-Divisa, a $26,700 down payment for an $87,000 apartment.
“Two years passed, then three years and nothing happened,” she said. “We kept calling and we couldn’t get any answers. Then they wanted us to pay more money up front for an apartment in a different development. We told them, we want what we paid for.”
Thanks to Schneiderman, Corporan said, the state of New York has now forced Diaz to pay restitution.
In 2013, Schneiderman sued the Diaz company and David Rivas, the owner of Rivas Travel, for deceptive and fraudulent practices. And this week, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan Kenney approved a consent order.
Under the order, 29 victims have already been repaid up to $33,000 each from Diaz’s company — a total of $540,000 in cash restitution. Another 40 have gotten clear legal titles to their properties. And Diaz has promised to secure 16 remaining titles within 60 days.
Diaz admitted no wrongdoing, but was slapped with a $75,000 penalty and banned from any further real estate sales in New York. Travel agency head Rivas also paid a $25,000 penalty.
“New Yorkers must have confidence when interacting with foreign corporations that do business in this state,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “And those corporations that break laws and then leave the state or country will not escape our reach.”
“Everyone worked hard to accomplish this agreement and it was satisfactory to both sides,” said Boris Kogan, the New York attorney for Díaz’s company.
The Pueblo Bávaro project “suffered as many real estate developments did during the economic collapse in 2008,” Kogan said, so many apartments couldn’t be delivered as scheduled.
Asked why buyers who received apartments didn’t get legal property titles for up to 10 years, Kogan claimed the title process in the Dominican Republic is slow.
It took Schneiderman and a court in New York to secure the justice for these immigrants that the government of their own home country refused to provide.
February 26, 2015
Category: DR News |