Court upholds Lennar's $1-billion verdict against San Diego developer

Appeals court upholds $1-billion award for builder Lennar in dispute that landed Barry Minkow in prison

The Florida Court of Appeal upheld a $1-billion judgment against San Diego developer Nicolas Marsch III in a lawsuit by Miami home builder Lennar Corp. accusing him of extortion and defamation.

The appeals court this week let stand the enormous damages awarded by a jury. The jury decided on the $1-billion award after the judge at the trial entered a default judgment against Marsch, citing “overwhelming” evidence that Marsch improperly deleted emails that “go directly to the heart of this case and are incriminating.”

According to court documents in a case that began five years ago, Marsch had hired the notorious Southern California con man Barry Minkow to back his claims that Lennar had cheated Marsch out of millions of dollars on a private golf community.

“The record and case law demonstrate that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by entering a default against Marsch,” the appeals panel wrote in a decision Wednesday.

It cited Marsch's “deletion of relevant emails, the concealment of material witnesses, lying during depositions, providing false testimony before the trial court and much more.”

Marsch had accused Lennar of using its money and influence in Florida to engineer a sham trial against him and his Briarwood Capital. He suggested in an email Friday that he was considering a further appeal.

“This is just part of what has been a never-ending litigation vendetta,” he wrote. “No surprise at all. And we have options.”

He didn’t elaborate, saying he had written a book, “Billion Dollar Lies,” summarizing his accusations against Lennar.

Marsch wound up in bankruptcy proceedings and has maintained that he has no remaining assets. Lennar attorney Daniel Petrocelli said investigators are looking into that claim.

Minkow is serving consecutive five-year prison terms after pleading guilty in separate fraud-related cases.

In 2011, he pleaded guilty to conspiring to damage Lennar by issuing reports calling the company a “financial crime in progress,” causing its stock price to nose dive by more than $500 million.

He had become a minister and a self-styled fraud investigator when Marsch hired him, but Minkow acknowledged in a plea agreement that his Lennar reports were filled with falsehoods.

Last year, Minkow pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud in embezzling $3 million from a San Diego church congregation.

Minkow first landed in prison after pleading guilty to defrauding investors in his ZZZZ Best carpet-cleaning firm, which he started as a teenager in his parents’ garage in Reseda.

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