For extorting the high-profile South Beach Realtor duo known as “The Jills,” a rival real-estate broker won’t be going to jail.
A judge sentenced Kevin Tomlinson to two years of “community control,” a form of house arrest, for threatening to ruin the reputation of the Jills in exchange for $800,000. He’ll also have to serve 15 years of probation and can’t work in real estate.
The judge cut Tomlinson a break — the state’s sentencing guidelines, while not mandatory, called for a minimum prison term of about 19 months.
“I do believe he is remorseful, blames himself for the appalling misconduct in which he engaged,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch said.
Jurors in June found Tomlinson guilty of illegally demanding the money from Jill Hertzberg and Jill Eber, the pair known for 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.
The Jills had asked for prison time.
“Kevin Tomlinson maliciously plotted, calculated, planned and targeted not only me, my partner but my children,” Hertzberg told the judge Friday. “He threatened to destroy all of us. For only one reason: Greed.”
Said Eber: “Extorting the Jills was his business plan.”
The Jills and their families left the courthouse and declined to speak to reporters.
Rival brokers, including Tomlinson, have long been wary of their success. Tomlinson discovered that the Jills had been manipulating home data on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which can only be accessed by brokers and Realtors, and supplies data for real-estate websites.
He found the that the Jills had been hiding properties that had been on the market for longer than six months. The manipulation made it appear the Jills’ track record was better than it actually was, and prevented other brokers from offering their services to clients whose listings were expiring on the database.
Tomlinson, in April 2015, filed a complaint with 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.
“He goes, ‘Listen, sister, you’re going to pay me money because if you don’t, I’m going to ruin your career,’ “ Hertzberg told jurors on Tuesday. “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.’ “
The Jills later turned to Miami Beach police detectives, who secretly recorded a series of phone calls and meeting in which Tomlinson upped the asking price: $400,000 from each of the brokers.
At Friday’s sentencing, prosecutors asked for prison time, saying Tomlinson’s crime was calculated and done for greed.
But defense attorney John Bergendahl said Tomlinson — who had no previous criminal record — deserved a break because it was an isolated crime.
“From beginning to end, this was an entirely unsophisticated extortion,” Bergendahl told the judge.
The judge agreed.