A pair of prominent Miami developers are duking it out again in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in what could be the closing chapter to an epic 12-year-old legal war over a private plane they jointly owned in the late 2000s.
Dressed in natty suits, Ugo Colombo and Craig Robins attended the first day of the trial on Tuesday. Seven jurors will decide which one is responsible for defaulting on a $18.5 million loan they obtained in 2007 to buy a Bombardier Challenger jet. Despite sitting a few feet away from each other, Colombo and Robins avoided making eye contact.
Colombo, founder of Brickell-based CMC Group, and Robins, CEO and president of Miami Design District-based Dacra, have been at each other’s throats since their joint ownership of the luxury aircraft fell apart in 2010. They have filed several lawsuits against each other for more than a decade. Colombo is currently developing Vita at Grove Isle, a six-story, waterfront condominium with 65 units near Coconut Grove. Robins is the mastermind behind the transformation of the Design District into a luxury retail, dining and arts destination.
The litigious feud featured a 2014 trial loss for Robins in which a jury awarded Colombo $2 million in damages that was reduced to $1.5 million on appeal. In 2019, Robins lost another trial when Miami-Dade Judge Michael Hanzman ruled his lawsuit alleging Colombo bribed a juror in the 2014 case was “bereft of evidence” and “completely implausible.”
Colombo also sued Robins in 2019, accusing his rival of defaming him. Colombo voluntarily dismissed the defamation lawsuit on April 24, 2019, court records show.
The current trial involves a 2013 lawsuit filed by the plane’s lender, Bank of America, against Colombo and his entity that owned 50 percent of the jet. The suit alleged he and his entity defaulted on the loan, and failed to sell the aircraft by Dec. 12, 2012, to pay off the debt per the terms of a forbearance agreement. Colombo and his entity counter-sued Robins and his entity that owned the other 50 percent of the plane for allegedly failing to pay its share of the loan and other costs and expenses associated with the jet.
After filing for bankruptcy protection, the jet’s ownership entity sold the plane for $9.5 million in 2014, according to court records and witness testimony.
Bank of America removed itself from the litigation last week, leaving only Colombo and Robins and their entities to continue to litigate over who owes whom. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge William Thomas, who is presiding over the trial, granted a dismissal of the lender’s claims last Thursday at the request of both Bank of America and Colombo. Each agreed to cover its own court costs and attorney fees.
During Tuesday’s opening arguments, Robins’ attorney Peter Prieto told jurors that his legal team will present evidence showing that Colombo stopped making payments on the loan in about 2010, while Robins continued to do so.
Prieto also accused Colombo of attempting to commandeer the plane for himself by allegedly having CMC Group CFO Arthur Murphy and an aviation sales broker surreptitiously submit a lowball offer to buy the plane. That allegedly occurred when the developers were attempting to sell it and repay Bank of America in 2012.
“Mr. Colombo wanted to buy the plane on the cheap,” Prieto said. “Mr. Murphy and Mr. Colombo put the company that owned the plane into bankruptcy.”
Murphy was the first witness to take the stand, under questioning by Colombo’s lawyer Gonzalo Dorta. Murphy explained that the Colombo plane entity received default letters from Bank of America because Robins’ entity had stopped paying its half of the loan payments on June 1, 2011, while his boss was in good standing with regard to the loan. Dorta also displayed copies of the default letters on a screen.
“I think [Robins] defaulted seven, eight months in a row,” Murphy said. “Mr. Colombo was paying his share of the loan and the fixed cost expenses that Mr. Robins had not paid.”
The trial resumes on Wednesday and is expected to last a week.