They say you should never mix business with pleasure.
A $7.5 million Bombardier Challenger aircraft is the source of a heated legal battle between a trio of former friends and business partners: Miami high-rise developer Ugo Colombo, Design District mogul Craig Robins, and the Fontainebleau Hotel’s Soffer family.
“I truthfully, looking back at this whole thing, made a mistake getting myself involved in this lawsuit in the first place,” Jeffrey Soffer said in a deposition some time back.
According to the Miami Herald, before things took a downward plunge, Colombo and Soffer were bosom buddies with a “flair of thrill-seeking” and “boat racing.” They also partnered up on businesses including on the Porto Vita towers in Aventura in the 90’s.
While Robins didn’t partake in prior business ventures with the pair, he did split the cost of a $22 million jet Colombo with them in mid-2007. The trio leased the plane to their own companies, Robins’ Dacra and Colombo’s CMC Group, and the hired the Soffers’ Turnberry Management to manage the jet.
Things went sour in late 2008, when a $200,000 bill came up that Robins refused to pay. After one month, Turnberry sued.
“Our position in the lawsuit is clear: Mr. Robins bit off more than he could chew,” remarked Jim Robinson, Colombo’s lawyer. “As a result, he just walked out on Ugo. That’s the reality here. He walked out on Ugo and left him stuck with the plane.“
At the time, Robins argued the opposite, claiming Colombo agreed to buy his share of the plane in 2008 only to rescind his offer once the economy collapsed.
“Ugo is in breach of his agreement with us,” he wrote to Turnberry. “ I would suggest you not embroil Turnberry in this dispute.”
When Turnberry sued, Robin’s countersued. And that’s when things got weird.
According to the Miami Herald, in 2009 Jeff Soffer signed a settlement agreement with Robins which said Colombo already paid the bill at the heart of the lawsuit, and agreed to pay Robins $300,000.
Following the settlement, Soffer and his sister Jackie and their employees explained in court proceedings that they only really sued Robins as a favor to their friend, Colombo. Apparently, Colombo had discretely funded the litigation and had Turnberry reverse bookkeeping entries to keep his participation hush-hush. The goal was to force Robins to continue paying off some of the debt on the jet while Colombo kept it for his own private use.
Jackie Soffer swore that Colombo was stressed out upon learning that Turnberry was voiding the lawsuit.
“Ugo told me that if we settled the lawsuit we were not his friends – we were his enemies,” she recalled. “During one of the conversations, Ugo changed the subject and asked whether I was worried about unpaid contractors at the Fountainebleau Miami Beach physically hurting my bother, Jeff.”
The Herald writes that Turnberry further alleged the “architect of Colombo’s secret prosecution was Burstyn,” who is a well-known criminal defense attorney and business partner of Colombo’s.
Meanwhile, bills from Turnberry’s lawyer Kluger Kaplan showed that Burstyn made at least a dozen appearances in conference calls and reviews.
Colombo denies the allegations, and continues to argue that there’s no signed agreement with Robins about buying out his half of the plane. Furthermore, his attornies claims Jackie is only chiming in now because she is intimately involved with Robins, who they claim is “in bed with Turnberry.”
“We believe this is all just a sideshow and shows desperation from the other side,” Robinson said.
Who is the Soffer family?
This forty-year Jewish family dynasty is rooted in the “good habits, discipline, and grooming one finds on the sports playing field,” according to Haute Living Magazine. Father Don Soffer is a former football star best known for getting rich and wealthy buying marshland.
Soffer transformed the South Florida land into the world-famous Turnberry Isle Resort & Club, The Aventura Mall, thousands of residential units and numerous offices.
The ex-footballer proudly proclaimed to Haute that, “Now, my handsome and talented son, Jeffrey, runs the business; he is in the office now.”
Jeff started to work with his father twenty years ago in 1987, and is now the chairman/chief executive officer of Turnberry, Ltd.
“I have a lot to do and love what I do,” he said, and the father/son team both agree that: “The Turnberry brand sets trends. We know what people like and we deliver.”
Aside for an eye for real estate, Don and Jeff have a passion for philanthropy; they’ve been major donors to the following organizations: American Heart Association, Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, CaP-CURE, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Miami Heart Institute, Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, United Way, and the University Of Miami School Of Medicine.