Kevin Tomlinson, the broker convicted of extorting two prominent rivals in South Beach’s high-end real estate market, just couldn’t stay off Facebook — and it will cost him his freedom.
A Miami-Dade judge on Thursday sentenced Tomlinson to 364 days in jail after he violated the terms of his probation by posting on social media about Jill Eber and Jill Hertzberg, the prominent real estate brokers known as The Jills.
Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch — who originally cut Tomlinson a break by sentencing him to house arrest — was clearly bothered by the defendant’s inability to stay quiet about his victims. Prosecutors only asked for six months in jail.
“I would have imposed more if you’d ask for more,” Hirsch said.
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The sentence adds yet another twist in the drama between The Jills and Tomlinson, who was convicted last year of extortion in a case that was huge news in South Florida’s real estate community.
The Jills are 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. But their successes have long stoked suspicions among other brokers.
That group included Tomlinson, an outspoken presence on social media who was himself a successful South Beach broker specializing in luxury condos. Back in 2015, he was the one who discovered that The Jills had been manipulating computerized home sales data, which boosted their track record and prevented other brokers from poaching away clients. Tomlinson complained to the Miami Association of Realtors, which opened an investigation.
But prosecutors said that Tomlinson shook down The Jills, demanding $250,000 from each woman, suggesting he would take the allegations to the media if they didn’t pay.
“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 the 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.’ “
The Jills reported the extortion to Miami Beach police, which began an undercover investigation and recorded Tomlinson shaking them down. He later requested $400,000 from each woman.
Tomlinson’s defense lawyer told jurors that he was a legitimate whistleblower and the case was nothing more than a civil court matter. At trial, The Jills insisted they did not know the extent of the data manipulation, blaming an employee.
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 returned to his South Beach home and began working selling high-end kitchens.
But in December, the Florida Department of Corrections had Tomlinson arrested after saying he violated his probation for failing to pay a court fee, leaving his home briefly and posting about The Jills on Facebook.
Prosecutors showed the judge Facebook posts by Tomlinson, including his sharing a lengthy Vanity Fair article about the case.
“The truth will be told. Justice will be exacted. Those smiles will be wiped off their greedy faces,” Tomlinson wrote on one post.
Assistant State Attorney Al Guttmann said Tomlinson knew he was not supposed to publicly talk about The Jills, who had been traumatized by their involvement in the case.
“They’re nasty comments,” Guttman said. “They’re not complimentary.”
For Tomlinson, Thursday’s hearing was en emotional affair. He wept frequently and admitted he had been wracked by psychological woes and a reliance on prescribed tranquilizers. He admitted he made the Facebook posts, but insisted they were only about The Jills’ “data fraud,” not the extortion case itself.
“I am not a threatening person by nature,” Tomlinson said. “I believe in the justice system.”
Judge Hirsch was not swayed. After he serves his nearly one year in jail, Tomlinson will have to return to his probation.