Florida bar investigating Miami City Attorney’s ties to alleged house-flipping scheme

Another Miami city official is in the crosshairs of an inquiry into alleged wrongdoing. 

The Florida Bar is probing Miami City Attorney Victoria “Vicki” Mendez’s ties to companies involved in an alleged house-flipping scheme that targeted homes previously owned by incapacitated people or those who could no longer take care of themselves, the Miami Herald reported. Firms owned by Mendez’s mother and her husband purchased the homes at well below-market value, and then sold the properties for a profit, sometimes on the same day. 

The bar investigation has been open since at least last April, according to a Florida Bar email obtained by the Miami Herald. However, in an email to The Real Deal, Mendez disputed that an official probe has been opened. 

“The Herald has incorrectly and libelously reported the facts,” Mendez said. “The Florida Bar inquired about the lawsuit filed against me. Any review by the Bar is pending the outcome of the case.” 

In February, Jose Alvarez sued the city of Miami, Mendez, her husband Carlos Morales and his company, Express Homes. Alvarez alleges he’s the victim of a “conspiratorial scheme to enrich the city attorney and her husband,” his lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court states. 

When his family home was hit with $271,000 in building code violations, Alvarez alleges he sought help from Mendez, who referred him to Morales, the lawsuit states. Morales allegedly convinced Alvarez to sell the property to Express Homes for $205,000 in 2017. 

Morales then fixed up the house, succeeded in having the code violations waived and sold the residence for $370,000 in 2018, the lawsuit states. In her email, Mendez alleged Alvarez’s lawsuit was “conjured up to harass my family and get me fired.” 

The Florida Bar is looking into homes purchased by Express Homes as well as Gallego Homes from the Guardianship Program of Dade County, the Miami Herald reported. The latter company is owned by Mendez’s mother, Margarita Mendez. The non-profit Guardianship Program is charged with selling the assets of incapacitated people without any family in order to pay for their care. 

Last year, Miami’s public radio station WLRN published an investigative report that chronicled how Express Homes and Gallego Homes bought the homes at large discounts and then flipped the properties for hefty profits. 

Miami City Hall has turned into a magnet for public corruption probes. In September, then-Miami city commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla was arrested and charged with bribery, money laundering, official misconduct and other felonies. State prosecutors allege Diaz de la Portilla spearheaded a no-bid deal allowing Miami Beach power couple David and Leila Centner to build a recreational center in a city park. 

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is the subject of a handful of ethics and criminal investigations looking into his private side jobs that have made him a millionaire, as well as that he allegedly failed to report that he’s received free tickets to major sporting events. 

— Francisco Alvarado

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