Real Estate News

He got probation for extorting SoBe real estate duo ‘The Jills.’ He may wind up in prison

The South Beach man convicted of extorting the famous real-estate duo known as The Jills is facing prison time after he was accused of violating the conditions of his probation and house arrest.

A jury in June convicted Kevin Tomlinson, who avoided jail time but was put on house arrest and ordered to pay fines and to refrain from working in real estate and posting online about his victims.

The Florida Department of Corrections, however, claims Tomlinson failed to pay court costs, left his home without permission and posted on Facebook about the case, according to court documents.

He was taken back into custody on Dec. 18, and was released Wednesday afternoon to await a “violation of probation” hearing, when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch could sentence him to prison time.

The real-estate news website The Real Deal first reported Tomlinson’s return to jail. The magazine Vanity Fair recently chronicled the saga that has been the talk of South Florida’s real-estate community.

Prosecutors said Tomlinson, 52, illegally demanded $800,000 from Jill Hertzberg and Jill Eber, the pair known for finding and selling homes to wealthy clients in South Florida. The two are media regulars, appearing in business news publications, celebrity news columns and home TV reality shows.

With Tomlinson still back in jail early Wednesday morning, his case remained in a unique limbo. After his initial arrest, Miami-Dade prosecutors stepped away from the case, citing a potential conflict — State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is close to Hertzberg’s husband.

The Florida governor’s office appointed the Broward State Attorney’s Office to prosecute the case. The “executive assignment,” however, expired in November and the office of the governor had yet to reappoint Broward to handle the violation of probation. The governor’s office remains in transition, with Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis scheduled to be sworn in on Jan. 8.

On Wednesday, Judge Hirsch said he was “very unwilling to release” Tomlinson from jail but had no choice because state authorities had failed after 15 days to obtain the paperwork to get Broward prosecutors back on the case.

“I’m profoundly concerned about this,” Hirsch said of the delay.

Hirsch, however, ordered that Tomlinson be put on “24-7” lockdown inside his home and be stripped of any computers, tablets or smartphones. Jailers released him later in the day.

“He can have no access to the Internet — at all,” Hirsch said.

Back in 2015, Tomlinson discovered that the Jills had been manipulating computerized home sales data, which boosted their track record and prevented other brokers from poaching away clients. In April 2015, he complained to the Miami Association of Realtors.

At trial, jurors heard that after Tomlinson filed the complaint, he visited Hertzberg at her Miami Beach home, and demanded $250,000 from each of the Jills or he would go to the media.

“He goes, ‘Listen, sister, you’re going to pay me money because if you don’t, I’m going to ruin your career,’ “ Hertzberg testified at trial. “He said, ‘You better listen. You better listen real well because I’m going to go and ruin your whole reputation. I’m going to call the Wall Street Journal and tell them all about this.’ “

He later requested $400,000 from each woman. At trial, the Jills insisted they did not know the extent of the data manipulation, blaming an employee.

Tomlinson’s defense lawyer told jurors that he was a legitimate whistleblower and the case was nothing more than a civil court matter. He is appealing his conviction.

State sentencing guidelines called for Tomlinson to be sent to prison for at least 19 months. But Judge Hirsch instead sentenced him to two years of “community control,” a form of house arrest. The sentence also called for 15 years of probation, and forbade Tomlinson from working in real estate and posting about The Jills on the Internet.

Tomlinson had been extremely vocal online — even tweeting to a Miami Herald reporter during his trial to complain about coverage.

David Ovalle covers crime and courts in Miami. A native of San Diego, he graduated from the University of Southern California and joined the Herald in 2002 as a sports reporter.