The 10News I-Team revealed how an expensive North County golf course project turned into a legal battle involving a pastor with a criminal past and a local real estate developer.
Link:Minkow-Marsch Case Documents
According to information obtained by the I-Team, local real estate entrepreneur Nicolas "Nick" Marsch partnered with Florida-based Lennar Corporation, a major U.S. builder, on the Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe project. The course gained national exposure as a site for primetime golf matches on ABC TV featuring Tiger Woods.
Now, the upscale property is part of a legal battle costing tens of millions of dollars, a bankruptcy, 17 related lawsuits and a criminal indictment.
The I-Team learned Lennar wanted a West Coast connection to develop the Bridges and partnered with Marsch, who sources said made $70 million for his part of the Bridges deal.
When the Bridges project was about 80 percent complete, Marsch accused Lennar of ripping him off. He filed a lawsuit, but got hammered in court. The judge said Marsch "repeatedly gave false testimony
Lennar was awarded $54 million in damages.
Marsch threatened Lennar's board of directors in a letter. In the letter obtained by the I-Team, Marsch accused the company of "shameful and disgraceful" behavior and threatened to expose the company's "dirty little secrets."
Lennar refused to back down, and the I-Team learned Marsch enlisted the aid of Pastor Barry Minkow -- a convicted con man who became a born-again pastor and TV personality who dispensed advice on fighting fraud.
Minkow was a pastor at San Diego's Community Bible Church and his story of redemption was featured on "60 Minutes."
In an email obtained by the I-Team, Minkow promised to thoroughly investigate Lennar's "lies." In the email, Minkow said he was confident Lennar would "settle
rather than deal with the consequences."
Minkow charged $125,000 -- with a $1 million to $2 million bonus for forcing Lennar to settle -- for his services.
However, Lennar never blinked, and Minkow went after them.
Minkow's Fraud Discovery Institute -- with no solid proof -- accused Lennar of running a "Madoff-like Ponzi scheme."
News organizations such as Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and CNN carried stories about the accusations, and Lennar's stock plummeted.
In just the first day, shareholders lost $358 million. The I-Team learned Minkow secretly shorted the stock, betting it would drop.
In recent filings in the case, lawyers for Marsch offered to call off Minkow's "damaging fraud allegations in return for cash and Lennar stock."
However, Lennar refused to cut a deal because of their "extreme dislike of Mr. Marsch," which was called "obstinate."
A court filing showed how Minkow eventually went down for smearing Lennar, pleading guilty to securities fraud, and how he is willing to help the federal government bring down someone else.
Minkow faces sentencing in July. He has agreed to testify against Marsch.
Marsch and his attorney said media reports about Minkow testifying against Marsch are not true.
Marsch said he is a victim of Minkow and claimed he never ordered any damaging information about Lennar released.
However, Marsch still maintains Lennar cheated him.
Exactly who is being prosecuted by the federal government is unknown at this time.
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