Coral Grand, LLC has leased the historic Florida club for more than a decade but has been at odds with the city over the terms for years. The city fears the company is hiding profits and will attempt to remove valuable assets from the property as the lease nears an end. David Winker, who is representing Coral Grand and owner Nick Di Donato, asks, “Is this Communist China or Cuba?”
A battle over the operation of the Coral Gables (Fla.) Country Club escalated April 13 as police arrived to evict employees and representatives of the operator, Coral Grand, LLC, Political Cortadito reported. Coral Grand has leased the historic public property for more than a decade but has been at odds with the city over the terms for years.
Employees had to vacate the premises, leaving all their furnishings, equipment, files and food behind, after a judge granted the city a temporary injunction appointing a receiver, or a third party to ensure the interest of the club members when there is a financial dispute, Political Cortadito reported. This despite the fact the lease—which was extended until the city can take over operations itself—ends on April 30 and the company has a month to move after that, according to the contract.
In fact, there are two weddings planned for this weekend, said attorney David Winker, who is representing the company and owner Nick Di Donato, Political Cortadito reported.
C+RB reported on city plans to take over operations in January 2022.
“In almost 30 years of practice, I have never seen such a blatant attempt to misuse the Court as Plaintiff’s corrupt effort to steal Defendant’s private property,” Winker writes in his motion. “American citizens do not normally have to be worried about government officials obtaining secret orders in the middle of the night to seize their private property.”
Actually, Political Cortadito reported, it was shortly before 8 p.m. when Miami-Dade County Judge Carlos Lopez signed the ex parte order appointing attorney Joel H. Brown the receiver to “ensure that the historical country club is protected and preserved for the benefit of the city and its citizens.”
The seizure includes personal property and bank accounts, Political Cortadito reported.
“A secret order signed by a judge in the middle of the night,” Winker told Ladra after he filed an emergency motion April 13 to dissolve the receivership. “No evidence, no hearing, just cops showing up saying you have to leave immediately and we are seizing everything.
“Is this Communist China or Cuba?”
Winker hopes to overturn it on April 14, saying that it was done without giving his client any due process, Political Cortadito reported.
“What has happened at the country club is a microcosm of the city right now—special deals for special people. And if you aren’t one of the special people, you better watch out,” said Winker, who has had other cases against the city, most notably against the secret approval of the WaWa gas station.
The city wanted to turn over the Country Club to Rodney Barreto and his partners after they presented an unsolicited bid to take over operations, Political Cortadito reported. They said that the current operators had defaulted on rent (during COVID) and that they weren’t forced to renew the lease. Residents balked and more than 3,000 signed a petition urging the city to keep the current operators.
The city’s late night injunction April 12 to appoint a receivership noted that Coral Gables Grand had formed a second company to operate the fitness center—and, possibly, syphon or hide income it would have to share with the city, Political Cortadito reported. It isn’t the first or only time city leaders accuse the Di Donatos, who they say won’t let the city audit the premises, of theft.
“They intend to use the next 30 days [through May 30, 2022] to remove marble from columns, tear out speakers and other sound equipment, remove counters and other items deemed fixtures, and load everything up in a truck that is headed for Canada where Nick resides and runs other businesses,” the city’s motion states.
So far, however, the city has not been able to prove that the company has done anything to keep more of the profits for themselves—or steal anything that doesn’t belong to them, Political Cortadito reported.
Instead, according to Gables Insider, this latest move comes during an impasse in negotiations over the transfer of the very same equipment and furnishings that the city has now seized, Political Cortadito reported. The company reportedly did not agree with the city’s lowball appraisals and rejected the offer.
“What is happening is that the city is stealing the Di Donatos’ equipment because they can’t operate the club without the million dollars worth of kitchen and gym equipment,” Winker said.
“This is the story of a city crossing the line into a criminal enterprise.”
Commissioners will meet behind closed doors April 14 in a “shade meeting” allowed under Florida’s government in the sunshine laws to discuss the case, Political Cortadito reported. Maybe at the same time, Winker will be in court trying to get his client back inside the country club.