LITIGATION

Soffer helicopter suit back on

 
AL DIAZ / THE MIAMI HERALD STAFF

By Douglas Hanks dhanks@MiamiHerald.com

The wrongful death suit against Fontainebleau owner Jeffrey Soffer is back on, with plaintiff lawyers heading to state court to accuse him of covering up his role in a 2012 fatal helicopter crash in the Bahamas.

Soffer first faced the allegations in a federal suit that was filed Dec. 9 but then withdrawn without explanation about three weeks later. In the suit, plaintiff Daria Gogoleva accused Soffer of illegally taking the controls of a helicopter carrying her husband, wealthy tax attorney Lance Valdez.

A Gogoleva lawyer said the suit was filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court Friday. Soffer lawyer Bob Martinez issued a statement that read in part: “A bad lawsuit doesn’t get any better just by refiling it in another court... The [new] complaint rehashes the same mistakes and false accusations.”

Soffer was a passenger in the helicopter, which Valdez hired to ferry them to an exclusive Bahamas resort. The chopper crashed, and the Gogoleva suit accused Soffer, an amateur pilot, of asking to take the controls mid-flight and then failing to prevent the fatal accident.

Soffer, whose family’s real estate empire includes the Aventura Mall and Turnberry resort, denied the allegation. His lawyers noted the pilot, David Pearce, had never said Soffer was in control and pointed to a $2 million insurance payout to Gogoleva that had already been vetted by her lawyers. When the suit was withdrawn, Soffer’s team ridiculed the suit as a publicity stunt, noting it mentioned Elle MacPherson, a famous model and Soffer’s wife.

Gogoleva lawyer Gary Philips said the suit was withdrawn from federal court over jurisdiction issues.

Philips said MacPherson, who the suit accuses of helping pressure Gogoleva to accept the insurance settlement, wasn’t written into the complaint for publicity purposes. “I just put in the facts I need to prove my case,’’ he said.

Soffer and his lawyers were not immediately available for comment Friday.

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