Crime

Her death was suspicious. Her boyfriend killed himself. Her sister is seeking justice.

The sister of the late Andrea Greenberg talks about her fight for justice

The sudden death of Miami real estate marketing executive Andrea Greenberg left a lot of unanswered questions. Greenberg's sister, Valerie, a lawyer in Miami, has spent the last 17 months battling in probate court for her sister's estate.
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The sudden death of Miami real estate marketing executive Andrea Greenberg left a lot of unanswered questions. Greenberg's sister, Valerie, a lawyer in Miami, has spent the last 17 months battling in probate court for her sister's estate.

In the final episode of the motorcycle-gang series “Sons of Anarchy,” the show’s protagonist — on the run from the cops and despondent over a series of tragedies — kills himself by riding his motorcycle head-on into a truck.

Alejandro Aparicio chose the same path when he ended his life on March 17. To several people who knew Aparicio, it was a sad but almost predictable action for a man who was a fan of the show.

“He was so desperate,” said one friend, who spoke to the Herald on condition of anonymity. “He couldn’t pay his lawyers any longer and he felt trapped. He saw no other way out.”

Aparicio’s fiery, violent death stunned and saddened friends who cared about him, relatives who loved him and even people who suspected him of being involved in the death of a beloved figure in Miami’s real estate industry.

Through numerous interviews and email exchanges with people who knew Aparicio, a complex portrait emerges of a man known as everything from a loyal friend to a gold-digger, a railroaded victim to a manipulative con artist who preyed on successful business women.

Aparicio, 59, was facing felony counts of first-degree grand theft, organized fraud and uttering forged instruments in connection with the death of his longtime girlfriend Andrea Greenberg, a respected veteran in the real estate marketing field.

Greenberg, 54, died on October 10, 2017, in her Morningside home. Aparicio was in the house with Greenberg at the time of her death. He was arrested on Feb. 8, 2019, and charged by the State Attorney’s Office with stealing money from Greenberg.

Aparicio was released on bond on Feb. 14 and ordered to wear a GPS ankle device until the trial, which was scheduled for June 3. He faced a potential maximum sentence of 65 years.

Court battle

The charges filed against Aparicio were the result of a legal battle in probate court between Aparicio and Greenberg’s sister Valerie. Aparicio opened the case by filing a forged will 10 days after Andrea’s death that made him the sole heir of her estate, which was valued at nearly $1 million between her house and various financial assets.

Court documents show that by November 7, 2017, Aparicio had withdrawn the entire $585,000 Andrea had in her bank accounts. A judge appointed Valerie personal representative of Andrea’s estate and ordered Aparicio to return the cash until the court determined the rightful owner.

Aparicio repeatedly ignored the orders and was held in contempt. At the time of his death, Aparicio had still not returned the money, which is now presumed to be gone.

The contentious litigation has stretched on for 17 months, costing Valerie close to $500,000 in lawyer fees and costs. Despite Aparicio’s death, the proceedings continue. In the next hearing, which had already been scheduled for April 3, the court will decide whether to strike all of Aparicio’s previous claims against the estate and Valerie, as a sanction for his previous misconduct.

Because Aparicio destroyed Andrea’s personal records and paperwork, the court had to proceed as though she left no will. Valerie is her only legal heir.

Court files, social media and interviews with friends of both Aparicio and Greenberg present a twisting tale of financial questions, police shortcomings, steadfast loyalties by long-term friends and a string of duplicitous actions by Aparicio. Most of the details have come to light only since his death.

No relief

But despite the costly legal war she had waged with Aparicio, an emotional Valerie said she felt no relief from his death.

“I’m sad,” she said from her legal office at Brickell City Centre on March 21, four days after his death. “The whole thing is sad. None of this changes what happened to Andrea. That [Alejandro] did things that led to his own suicide in such a horrific manner is sad. I don’t take any solace in any of that.

“The fact that I find no joy in this means I’m human, and I’m okay with that,” she said. “If I found joy in this, there would be something wrong with me.”

But the stacks of boxes containing documents, court filings and evidence Valerie meticulously amassed during the probate case aren’t going into storage just yet.

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Attorney Valerie Greenberg, the sister of the late Miami real-estate agent Andrea Greenberg, spent more than a year battling Andrea’s ex-boyfriend, Alejandro Aparicio, in civil court. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

Valerie, a commercial litigator and partner at Akerman LLP, is still poring over emails, bank records and digital data that she said continue to reveal Aparicio’s deception. According to the evidence, Aparicio lied to Andrea, manipulated her and repeatedly stole money from her in surreptitious ways, including forging loans secured by her house and making himself the death beneficiary of her retirement savings accounts.

For example, Valerie sent Andrea’s iPad to the Washington, D.C., firm Intelligent Discovery Solutions for a forensic analysis. Among the discoveries: Andrea had Googled “poison symptoms” a couple of hours before her death.

“Every institution failed my sister,” Valerie said. “From the retirement account to the bank to the police department. But I’ve been practicing law for 25 years and the universe equipped me to do what needed to be done to make sure Andrea’s story was told and that the criminal justice system did what it needed to do.”

A botched investigation

Those failures, Valerie said, began on the night Aparicio called 911 to report Andrea was lying on the couch in her Morningside home, unresponsive. Miami Police Detective Nestor Amores, who responded to the call, drove Aparicio back to the Morningside home from Jackson Memorial Hospital, where Andrea had been pronounced dead, and left without taking any photos, documenting the scene or notifying her next of kin.

Just a few hours later, according to court records, Aparicio began withdrawing funds from Andrea’s bank account on his home computer.

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Andrea Greenberg.

A toxicology report conducted by the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner, who could not determine a cause of death based on a regular autopsy, determined Andrea had died from an “accidental drug overdose” involving three kinds of fentanyl, which heightened suspicions among Andrea’s friends and family that Aparicio had played a role in her death.

Even detectives doubted Andrea was a chronic user of illegal drugs, according to a memo dated Dec. 27, 2018, written by the medical examiner.

Andrea’s friends were outraged by the suggestion that she had overdosed on drugs, much less street-grade fentanyl, saying she was at most a casual wine drinker.

“Andrea’s drug of choice was shopping,” said Lisa Ross, Greenberg’s friend of 30 years, during an interview with the Herald last March. “That was her way of coping with things. You gave her a glass of wine and some shopping and she was good to go.”

In a Facebook post written on the day he took his life, Aparicio described Andrea’s overdose as “a horribly TRAGIC ACCIDENT caused by unknowingly opioid-laced diet pills manufactured in a Chinese pharmaceutical laboratory (a common occurrence which happens daily all over the country), advised and/or given to her as an ‘appetite suppressant.’”

But in the police report written on the night of Andrea’s death, Aparicio told detectives the exact name of the prescription medication she had been taking: phentermine hydrochloride. According to the Food and Drug Administration, phentermine hydrochloride is an appetite suppressant and the most commonly prescribed drug for weight loss. It was approved by the FDA in 1959 and has not been linked to any opioid deaths, according to the New York Times.

Aparicio also never turned over the remaining pills to authorities. Instead, he told several of Andrea’s friends he threw them out because an analysis of the pills would not bring Andrea back, which further fueled their suspicions.

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Andrea Greenberg in an undated photo during a trip to Paris

According to Valerie, after a Miami Herald story about the case was published on March 25, 2018, quoting Police Chief Jorge Colina as saying there was no evidence of a homicide, the chief called her to “personally apologize for having spoken too quickly.”

“He said ‘What can I do for you and your family? I’m here to serve,’” Valerie said. “I told him I wanted to meet with him, because you had to look at the documented information.”

A week later, Colina met with Valerie, who brought along one of Andrea’s longtime friends, Adriana Companet.

Colina declined to comment for this story. But Valerie says her memory is clear:

She walked Colina through the box of documents she had compiled that demonstrated Aparicio’s financial misdeeds. After only 20 minutes, the chief said, “He’s a sociopath.”

Valerie also gave Colina a list of names of people who had called Detective Amores with suspicions about Aparicio’s behavior days after Andrea’s death. But the officer did not respond to their concerns or failed to return their calls, Valerie said.

“Had the police department responded to the people who called them, they would have undoubtedly launched a homicide investigation,” Valerie said.

Companet verifies Valerie’s account of the meeting.

“The police could have caught Alejandro if they had followed the proper procedure that night,” she said. “The chief said he would assign a new detective to the case, but it was too little too late. It was six months later. Alejandro had plenty of time to get rid of the security video footage from the camera in the living room, which would have captured everything that happened that night.”

Loyal defenders

Despite the charges filed against Aparicio, nearly a dozen of his friends and relatives remain steadfast in their belief that he was railroaded by an attorney with powerful connections who wanted to avenge her sister.

Sergio Macia, who owns a food processing business in Cartagena, said he has known Aparicio for 44 years and considered him a brother. To him, the idea that Aparicio could have killed Greenberg is preposterous.

“We always saw each other when I visited Miami,” Macia said. “We were unconditional friends. We would meet for beers on Lincoln Road or have lunch in Aventura. I was his confidant and he spoke a lot about Andrea. He loved her. He was a decent, educated, respectful man. I can tell you without a doubt he had nothing to do with her death.”

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Andrea Greenberg and Alejandro Aparicio in a photo he posted on Facebook on March 4.

Another of Aparicio’s friends, who spoke to the Herald on condition of anonymity, said the last time she saw him was the day he was released from jail on bond.

“Alejandro and I knew each other for 30 years,” she said. “We reconnected recently at a time when his life was full of emptiness, pain and sadness, and he desperately needed a friend. So that is what I became.

“I am shocked and saddened by the latest news and am comforted by the fact that he led a long and well-lived life,” she said. “That he loved and was loved. I hope he found the peace he deserved.”

Several of Aparicio’s Facebook acquaintances blamed his death directly on Valerie, who they say used her influence within the legal system and went after him simply out of greed. In a long post, titled “A Travesty of Justice: Unmasking the Evil,” which Aparicio shared on Facebook minutes before his death, he blasted Valerie and her friends as “gullible, superficial, immoral, quick-to-judge gossipers” who had power and influence over the authorities.

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Undated photo of Alejandro Aparicio

Aparicio’s Facebook friends left comments on that post saying “The universe will take care of making them pay for their evil.”

Bruce Katzen, the lawyer who represents Valerie in the ongoing probate trial, sees the situation differently.

“That’s a false storyline they’re trying to feed,” he said. “Valerie had no sway in any way in the legal proceedings. These are determinations based on the law. Alejandro filed a fraudulent will. I do not believe he killed himself, as his attorneys say, because he was being wrongfully prosecuted.

“It’s hard for people to understand that someone they socialized with was a con man.”

Some of Aparicio’s friends told the Herald they had never even heard of Andrea until Aparicio’s final Facebook post.

“He didn’t post any pictures of her while she was living,” said one longtime friend of Aparicio, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Then he started posting pictures of them together to make the case that they were soulmates. That was absolute nonsense. It was too little, too late.”

Andre Gibson, the appellate lawyer representing Aparicio, declined to comment for this story, saying he is respecting the family’s wishes. Aparicio is survived by his sister, Juanita, who lives in Bogota and did not respond to a request for comment.

Barry Wax, the attorney who represented Aparicio in the criminal case, said, “This is a tragic loss of two beautiful lives.”

An elusive personality

Andrea Greenberg, who worked as vice president of marketing at Fortune, met Aparicio at the office in November 2003, when he was hired as vice president of hospitality in charge of arranging the hotel services of Le Meridien condo-hotel project in Sunny Isles Beach.

The pair soon began dating.

“I thought it was a strange relationship, because they were very different people,” said Edgardo Defortuna, president and CEO of Fortune International Realty. “But sometimes different people get along well and complement each other. They were both talented in their own way. But I was shocked by Andrea’s death, because I knew her well and will never believe she was using drugs.”

Companet, Andrea’s friend and colleague at Fortune, said she understood Aparicio’s appeal.

“He was well-dressed, elegant and well-spoken,” Companet said. “I could see why she was charmed by him. I had no reason not to like him. But I very quickly started to realize he had a dark side.”

That duplicitous nature manifested itself soon after Andrea and Aparicio became an item.

“Alejandro was a Don Juan,” said Lucrecia Lindemann, who worked as a sales director at Fortune and had an 18-month on-and-off relationship with him. “He’s a charmer. But once you got to know him, you knew there was a big cushion of b------t underneath. He liked to date women who had position and money.”

Lindemann said she gave Aparicio a $25,000 Rolex watch and paid for the majority of the vacations they took together. Aparicio was fired from Fortune in Feb. 2007, shortly after an internal investigation of his emails was launched, according to various sources at Fortune.

Lindemann resigned from Fortune that month and continues to work in the luxury real estate industry. She ended her relationship with Aparicio a few months later when she discovered he was still in an embattled relationship with Andrea.

A beloved friend

What hasn’t ended, though, is the pain of Andrea’s friends, who continue to remember her as a force of nature who often changed their lives — literally.

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Andrea Greenberg, left, and her girlfriends during one of the many vacations they took together.

“She handed my entire life to me,” said Janette Suchman, who met her husband Larry on a blind date Andrea had arranged for the couple. “After Alejandro was caught having an affair with another woman in the office, we all told her ‘Why don’t you just dump him?’ But she was loyal to a fault to anyone who sparked her. I wrote her a letter telling her she needed to let this guy go. But she told me I was out of bounds and not to talk to her about it again.”

Suchman said Andrea started a travel group, known as the “AKG (Andrea K. Greenberg) Sisterhood,” which she used as a way of getting her girlfriends together to take trips. For Andrea’s 50th birthday, the group visited Los Angeles. After her death, the group traveled to one of Andrea’s favorite places, the Lake Shrine Temple on the Pacific Coast Highway, to spread a portion of her ashes there.

They scattered the rest of her ashes on Biscayne Bay.

The AKG Sisterhood continues to take trips together and the women are committed to taking care of each other, Suchman said.

“But Andrea’s absence is deeply felt,” she said. “She was my daughter’s godmother and attended every single event in my daughter’s life. Now she is getting her driver’s license and Andrea would have been so excited. She would have brought her a charm for her car or something. Auntie Andie is going to be missed forever for the rest of our lives.”

For Valerie, the court battle isn’t over yet. But she does feel she can finally start to properly mourn her sister.

“I was in shock that Andrea was dead and there was no explanation,” Valerie said. “To this day 17 months later, I still haven’t faced that Andrea is dead. We were 16 months apart and we shared a bedroom as kids.

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Valerie and Andrea Greenberg at the Bar Mitzvah of Valerie’s son Joe Itkoff.

“Andrea and I had a loyalty to each other that no one else could understand, except maybe for my children. She loved my children. She was in the delivery room when my daughter Colby was born. Just before her death, she was at my son Joe’s graduation. She was at every event. They were her real family.

“People think this is a choice I made to pursue this case,” Valerie said. “It wasn’t a choice. I don’t even know what the question is. I was her sister. I was her family. She worked her whole life for everything he took away.”

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From left: Colby Itkoff, Valerie Greenberg, Joe Itkoff and Andrea Greenberg during a family shopping trip.

Rene Rodriguez has worked at the Miami Herald in a variety of roles since 1989. He currently writes for the business desk covering real estate and the city’s affordability crisis.

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