During a lavish party for hundreds of guests, North Miami Beach developers Victor and Natalia Wolf unveiled their most ambitious project: a new city in the heart of Texas.
There, the couple envisioned a futuristic community known as Sky Station, featuring thousands of homes, luxury stores, hotels and office towers.
“A poster child for development,” said one investor.
Now, with the Wolfs already indicted in a land scandal in Florida, federal agents are investigating the spectacular collapse of a Texas project — one of the largest of its kind, wiping out dozens of investors with millions of dollars still missing.
In the end, a plan that promised to be a model for the country is now covered by barbed wire, cattle and brush — not a single home built.
“These people destroyed lives,” said Coral Springs businessman Peter Mazzarino, who invested with the couple in Florida.
The Wolfs are wanted by the FBI for concocting a massive land swindle on Florida’s Gulf Coast, but little is known of their push into Texas that cost investors and lenders nearly $77 million.
The move was the last major venture by the couple to attract clients across the country before fleeing their stately waterfront home in Miami-Dade.
They set up a headquarters in a glass tower near Biscayne Boulevard in Aventura, boasting a new name: Sky Group of Texas — but in the end, it turned out to be an empty office with no working phones.
Even company letters showing luxury stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus coming to the project were bogus claims.
Years after the Wolfs fled the country, the failed project has caught the attention of federal postal inspectors and state agents in a widening investigation.
Texas regulators are moving to strip the license of the title company that performed the land deals — a subsidiary of Miami’s Lennar Homes — saying the firm falsified records showing where the money was diverted.
Key records were just released in a federal lawsuit, prompting investors to accuse the Wolfs and others of running a massive Ponzi scheme that snared 31 investors, five banks and three other lenders.
Investors say millions moved through various bank accounts, including 30 separate companies, but just a fraction was put into construction.
“It’s just staggering that millions of dollars got spent, and there’s nothing there,” said Brian Vodicka, a retired accountant who lost $915,000.
“This was supposed to be Austin’s new stamp on the map for creating a living community. They were going to build a city. There should have been roads. There should have been homes. What do you see? A broken-down barn and a head of cattle.”
Two other key partners in the project, Vitaly Zaretsky of New Jersey, and Eugene Borokhovich, 48, of New York, could not be reached for comment.
In earlier interviews, their lawyers said the partners didn’t break any laws and that all their land deals were overseen by title companies.
But investors say state regulators have already found enough fraud with the title company’s handling of the project to shut down the firm.
The FBI’s Fort Lauderdale office refuses to comment on the Wolfs, now suspected of being part of a network of Russian nationals who preyed on investors during the housing boom.