Lawsuit

Spat between Miami business partners turns to nasty emails, defamation suit

 

ebenn@MiamiHerald.com

The emails to Marcelo Cordeiro’s business associates claimed the Key Biscayne financial advisor was being investigated for fraud and gang activity.

The emails to Cordeiro’s wife and friends suggested he was a cheater, a woman-beater and “a gay that hasn’t come out of the closet.”

On Thursday, a Miami-Dade County Circuit Court judge, having determined that the emails came from Cordeiro’s ex-business partner, signed an emergency order forbidding him from sending any more missives.

The stop-email injunction is part of an ongoing defamation suit Cordeiro filed in August against his former partner, Marcelo Castro Alves. The men had been friends, invested in real estate together, and worked out of the same office at Alves’ Focus Investment Advisors in Brickell, according to court documents.

But their relationship soured last March for reasons the men disagree on. Alves says he caught Cordeiro swindling Focus’ clients; Cordeiro argues that he confronted Alves about “highly improper and illegal conduct” going on at the wealth advisory firm.

Soon after, Alves began sending emails to an unknown number of people associated with Cordeiro. In several of them, Cordeiro alleges, Alves created fake email accounts and pretended to be made-up government officials.

“Highly confidential -- Fraud Alert. This person is under investigation. Marcelo Carvalho Cordeiro,” read one email from tax.investigation@usa.com and signed IRS Tax Investigation.

“Cordeiro is under investigation by the banks in the Bahamas and Switzerland because of the potential case of fraud committed against clients,” read another email, purportedly from Brazil’s Federal Reserve. “In the USA, Cordeiro is also being investigated by the local police and probably the FBI.”

While those emails prompted Cordeiro’s defamation suit last year, recent ones caused him to ask a judge to take immediate action.

“Divorce: Brazilian Habitant in Key Biscayne / Miami Domestic Violence Against Women,” was the subject of a Feb. 14 email that went on to name Cordeiro and his wife. It also included a docket screenshot of a domestic-violence case in Brazil from a man with a similar name to Cordeiro’s who lives in a city that Cordeiro says he’s never even visited.

“We in the Jewish colony in NY learned that your husband, Cordeiro, has recently begun going out with a Venezuelan woman in Miami Beach,” said an email sent from an alleged Simcha Jakubowicz to Cordeiro’s wife, Amelia Whitaker. “We know that he is a ‘gay’ that hasn’t come out of the closet. What this Venezuelan doesn’t know is that your husband has a police investigation ... for complaints of domestic violence, threats and battery.”

Alves acknowledged in court filings that he “sent email alerts to Focus business associates, clients and personal friends” to warn them about Cordeiro. He said the claims he made about Cordeiro are “true and correct” and that Cordeiro is or has been involved in criminal and civil cases in Brazil.

The Brazilian cases are “meritless” and “have no relevance” to the defamation suit, said Cordeiro’s attorney, Eric Ostroff of Miami firm Meland, Russin and Budwick. He said his client is neither the subject of any active criminal investigation nor has he ever been convicted of a crime.

Alves filed a countersuit this month, accusing Cordeiro of defaming him through similar emails to their shared business associates.

“Our client unequivocally denies all of the unfounded allegations of wrongdoing and intends to vigorously defend himself and pursue all available remedies, including his claims for tortious interference with business and contractual relationships, defamation and conversion against Marcelo Cordeiro,” Alves’ attorney, Ana Velez of Miami’s Di Santo Bruno, wrote in a statement.

Courts have seen a dramatic rise in defamation cases because of the Internet, said Michael Richmond, a professor at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center.

“When we’re on the Internet, where anonymity rules, our sense of etiquette and what’s right and wrong tends to fly out the window,” Richmond said. “It’s awfully easy to hit ‘Send’ on an email that you might regret. But at that point, the damage is already done.”

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