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TV lawyer’s company behind on utility payments on Homestead stadium

When John H. Ruiz’s budding school sports broadcasting company, La Ley Sports, took over Homestead’s long-empty baseball stadium last summer, city officials were happy to get a costly asset off their hands.

But now the company has failed to keep up the required insurance on the stadium, and has $29,000 in past-due utility bills. A trail of liens, a foreclosure on Ruiz’s Coral Gables mansion and other court documents also cast doubt on whether the company and its owner can afford to meet their obligations under the city lease to operate the baseball stadium.

“It is worrisome,” said Councilwoman Judy Waldman. “Hopefully, there will be a meeting of the minds. But we do have issues here.”

Even as they praised La Ley for its youth programs, City Council members Wednesday refused La Ley’s request to change the terms of the company’s lease with the city to waive for four years La Ley’s obligation to carry property insurance.

The city had already retroactively waived the property insurance requirement from July 2011 until January 3, 2012, after company failed to carry the insurance, as required by its lease.

La Ley officials did not appear at Wednesday’s meeting.

Ruiz is the Miami lawyer who owns the La Ley empire — Spanish for “The Law.” He hosts a Spanish-language law show, La Ley con John H. Ruiz, and has a legal practice that, Ruiz said, has represented about 8,000 homeowners in foreclosure cases since 2008.

He also runs La Ley Sports, which he created in 2010, and with which the Miami-Dade School Board contracted last year to telecast school sports games.

In July 2011, the Homestead City Council voted to hand La Ley control of its stadium. The stadium had sat largely unused after being heavily damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, shortly after it was built, shattering the city’s dream of attracting a Major League Baseball team for spring training.

Ruiz downplayed the issues raised in court and city records.

“None of the issues that have surfaced have to do with not paying,” Ruiz told The Miami Herald on Tuesday. “As far as the stadium itself, it’s running perfectly.”

Council members expressed high hopes for the deal with La Ley, and were enthusiastic when the company began to fix up the stadium. The most notable sign of progress: When the stadium’s signature pink paint was covered up with the colors of La Ley, red and white.

But the honeymoon may be over.

Homestead city officials have been negotiating with Ruiz for months after the company failed to maintain property insurance on the structure, as required by the lease. The city has continued carrying the insurance at a cost to taxpayers of about $10,000 a month, city records show.

Council members decided Wednesday to renegotiate the city’s contract with La Ley to let the city continue to carry the property insurance and allow La Ley to reimburse the city. The current contract calls for La Ley to carry the property insurance on its own. The council also decided to allow the company to drop its business-interruption insurance and asked the city manager to work out a payment plan for the past-due utility bills.

According to documents provided by Homestead, La Ley is more than $29,000 behind in its utility payments to Homestead, which runs its own electric system. When asked about the outstanding bills, Ruiz said: “It’s not past due. We mailed it out already. It’s always paid on time.”

Miami-Dade court records show liens had been placed on the stadium. PPG Architectural Finishes claimed Ruiz’s company owes the company about $27,000 for work done on the stadium. A satisfaction of the lien has not been recorded with the county, court records show, but Ruiz on Wednesday emailed to The Miami Herald documents showing the lien had been satisfied as of March 12.

Another lien on the stadium, for more than $16,000 owed to C&C Concrete Pumping, has been paid off, county court records show.

“There are no liens. They have all been paid off. On the construction side, there are always liens,” Ruiz said.

The city of Homestead isn’t Ruiz’s only creditor.

He owes $64,300 after defaulting on a lease for electronic equipment, according to a November 2011 court order. Ruiz said the equipment was faulty, so his company returned it. Phone calls to the company that won a default judgment for the property against Ruiz and his law firm were not returned.

Ruiz’s Snapper Creek mansion is in foreclosure, according to court records filed in August 2011. The 14,063-square-foot home was built in 2009, according to the most recent county property appraiser records. Ruiz said the home is worth $10.5 million, but county property records list the home’s 2011 market value at $4.6 million. It sits on a 54,829-square-foot lot.

He said Gibraltar Private Bank stopped paying a construction loan on the home, so he stopped paying the bank. Ruiz is also in mediation with SunTrust Mortgage because he used his second home, an 8,714-square-foot residence in Coral Gables assessed by the county at $2.6 million, as collateral for the Gibraltar Bank loan, he said.

Ruiz’s cigarette boat was also seized recently, according to court records. The bank, Banco Popular, filed court papers in January 2012 to foreclose on the boat loan. Banco Popular claims Ruiz owes $216,000, that he failed to make payments in September 2011 and November 2011, and made partial payments another three months.

Ruiz told The Miami Herald he had an agreement to make interest-only payments to the bank that Banco Popular later reneged on.

In an affidavit filed with the court, Ruiz said he asked to make interest-only payments “due to financial commitments and investment in the Homestead Sports Complex.”

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