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IN THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA

(Before a Referee)

THE FLORIDA BAR, The Florida Bar File


No. 2009-70,155(11N)

Complainant,

v. Supreme Court Case


No. SC08-2412
MARIA TERESA LOPEZ,

Respondent.
_________________________/

REPORT OF REFEREE

I. SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS: Pursuant to the undersigned being duly

appointed as Referee for the Supreme Court of Florida to conduct disciplinary

proceedings as provided for by Rule 3-5.2(g) of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar,

review of a consent judgment for discipline was undertaken. All of the pleadings,

notices, motions, orders, and exhibits are forwarded with this report and the foregoing

constitute the record in this case.

The following attorneys appeared as counsel for the parties:

For The Florida Bar: William Mulligan


The Florida Bar
444 Brickell Avenue
Suite M-100
Miami, FL 33131
For Respondent: Steven David Pinkert, Esq.
Calrie Marsh, Esq.
One Datran Center
9100 Dadeland Blvd., Suite 1702
Miami, Florida 33156

II. FINDINGS OF FACT AS TO EACH ITEM OF MISCONDUCT OF

WHICH RESPONDENT IS CHARGED: Based upon the Consent Judgment, my

findings of fact are as follows:

A. On or about September 2, 2008, a subpoena duces tecum was duly

executed and served upon Respondent commanding her to appear before the Miami

Branch Staff Auditor of The Florida Bar (“Staff Auditor”) on September 16, 2008, at

10:00am at the Bar offices and produce at that time original bank statements, canceled

checks (front and back), check stubs, deposit slips, wire transfers, cashier’s checks

issued with supporting documentation, receipt and disbursement journals, client ledger

cards, HUD-1 Statements and balance sheets for all real estate transactions, closing

statements from any personal injury case, bank and client reconciliations from the

account identified as Maria T. Lopez, IOTA Trust Account, maintained at City

National Bank account #1403407244, and all trust accounts in which she had signatory

capacity and any other account in which the funds pertaining to clients were placed, for

the period of January 1, 2005, to the present. In addition, a subpoena was served upon

Respondent’s banking institution, City National Bank.

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B. This request of audit was predicated upon the Bar’s notice from

Attorney’s Title Insurance Fund, Inc. (“The Fund”) that they had suspended

Respondent due to irregularities in some real estate transactions.

C. Pursuant to the subpoena, Respondent provided copies of bank

statements, canceled checks from the account identified as Maria T. Lopez, IOTA

Trust Account, maintained at City National Bank account #1403407244 and some

HUD-1 Statements. Respondent failed to produce original bank statements, canceled

checks, deposit slips, wire transfers, receipt and disbursement journals, client ledger

cards, all HUD-1 Statements with the balance sheets and bank and client

reconciliations from the account identified as Maria T. Lopez, IOTA Trust Account,

maintained at City National Bank account #1403407244. It is Respondent’s contention

that she did not have original records in her possession to provide because the originals

were taken by The Fund. Respondent also contends that she provided the copies in her

possession and requested a two (2) week extension to provide ledger cards (which was

granted) and provided the ledger cards within the extension deadline.

D. Respondent failed to disclose or provide any records from another

trust account opened November 7, 2007, maintained at City National Bank identified

as Maria T. Lopez, IOTA Trust Account #1403885507.

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E. Respondent also failed to disclose or provide any records from an

operating account identified as Maria T. Lopez P.A., maintained at City National Bank

#1403407231 that was used to conduct real estate transactions. It is Respondent’s

contention that she provided records for the period of March, 2007, through October,

2008, for this account in or around May, 2009. During the period of December 1,

2007, to August 31, 2008, approximately $16,000,000.00 of client and/or third party

funds were received into and disbursed from account #1403407231.

F. Respondent also failed to disclose or provide bank records from an

interest bearing account identified as Maria T. Lopez, maintained at City National

Bank #1043162877. It is Respondent’s contention that she opened this account on

November 7, 2007, at the request of a client; however the account was never properly

labeled as a trust account. Respondent received approximately $2,367,595.20 of client

and/or third party funds transferred from her other accounts identified above. From

those funds, Respondent disbursed approximately $1,344,664.02 to her operating

account, leaving a balance in this account of $1,028,467.53 as of August 31, 2008.

G. The Staff Auditor’s review of the records available revealed that

Respondent was involved in problematic real estate transactions. The following

paragraphs will detail some of these transactions which include failure to satisfy two

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(2) mortgages and flipping (compound transactions which were conducted

simultaneously).

H. The first transaction occurred on or about March 31, 2006,

involving property located at 2300 SW 26 Street, Miami, Fl 33133. The HUD-1

Statement reflects that the purchase price was $720,000.00; that Respondent was the

settlement agent; Christian Giannotti was the seller; and Mairet Corzo was the buyer.

I. This transaction appears to not have been an arm’s length

transaction. Christian Giannotti and Mairet Corzo were the principals in a Florida

Limited Liability Company identified as Giannotti & Corzo, LLC. It is Respondent’s

contention that she had no knowledge of the existing relationship between the parties

prior to or while acting as the closing agent for the transaction.

J. During the Staff Auditor’s review of the records, he found the following

problems with this transaction:

1. The cash from borrower listed on line 303 of the HUD-1 Statement

was $24,904.60, however, those funds were never provided by the borrower. It is

Respondent’s contention that the funds were provided by seller to borrower as a loan

from seller’s proceeds.

2. The cash to seller listed on line 603 of the HUD-1 Statement was

$166,935.52, however, the actual disbursements were $75,000.00 to Christian

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Giannotti, “the seller”, and $66,030.92 to Mairet Corzo, “the borrower”.

3. There was a “Gift of equity” (listed on line 509 of the HUD-1

Statement) in the amount of $170,000.00 which reduced the sales price.

4. Respondent contends that she received $4,350.50 in fees, and since

she was a broker with Preferred Mortgage, she also received approximately $6,000.00

more.

K. In the above transaction Respondent failed to satisfy an existing mortgage

on the property in the amount of $320,000.00 from Capital Homes and Investments,

which filed a Lis Pendens on March 7, 2007. Capital Homes and Investments has not

foreclosed on the property because Christian Giannotti filed a Suggestion of

Bankruptcy. Capital Homes and Investments has filed a claim with The Fund. It is

Respondent’s contention that this claim has recently been settled among the parties.

L. On or about December 27, 2006, Mairet Corzo refinanced the above

property located at 2300 SW 26 Street, Miami Fl 33133 and netted approximately

$73,412.06 before she let the property go into foreclosure. Respondent was the

Settlement Agent and again failed to satisfy the existing mortgage of Capital Homes.

From this transaction, Respondent contends that she received $6,346.62 in fees and

held $20,000.00 in her trust account in an effort to obtain a release of mortgage from

Giannotti. On or about August 21, 2007, those funds were paid to The Fund when she

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disclosed the existence of said funds during a deposition.

M. The second transaction involved property located at 13040 Coronado

Terrace, Miami, Fl 33187. The HUD-1 Statement reflects that Respondent was the

settlement agent; Irina Ball acted as purchaser; the seller was Max Gawley; the

settlement date was August 16, 2007; and the purchase price was $930,000.00.

N. In addition to this HUD-1 Statement, there is a second HUD-1 Statement

with the same date, but this time Irina Ball acted as the seller of this same property to a

buyer identified as Roximar Duval. This HUD-1 Statement reflects that the sales price

was $1,275,000.00; the cash from borrower was $324,657.05 ; and the cash to seller

was $1,229,544.96.

O. In reality, there was no cash from the borrower . It is Respondent’s

contention that the borrower did not bring cash to the closing, but the funds were

provided by seller as a loan to borrower from seller’s sale proceeds. The real seller,

Max Gawley, received $797,282.05, Irina Ball received $38,780.86 and Respondent

contends that the $9,136.50 she received was for fees. It should be noted that the lender

recorded a Lis Pendens.

P. The third transaction involved property located at 400 Alton Road #710,

Miami Beach, Fl 33139, and it is similar to the previous transactions. The HUD-1

Statement reflects that Respondent was the settlement agent; Irina Ball acted as the

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purchaser; the seller was Adam Slone; the settlement date was October 15, 2007; the

purchase price was $880,000.00; and the cash to seller was $165,040.43.

Q. In addition to this HUD-1 Statement, there is a second HUD-1 Statement

dated October 26, 2007, in which Irina Ball acted as the seller for the same property to

a buyer identified as Juanita Nails. This HUD-1 Statement reflects that the sales price

was $1,050,000.00; the cash from borrower was $117,207.12; and the cash to seller

was $1,028,390.68.

R. Again, there was no cash from the borrower. It is Respondent’s

contention that the borrower did not bring cash to the closing, but the funds were

provided by seller as a loan to borrower from seller’s sale proceeds. The seller, Adam

Slone, received $165,040.43; Irina Ball (through her corporation Pan American

Investment and Mortgage Corp.) received $38,780.86; and Respondent contends that

the $25,902.78 she received was for fees.

S. Another transaction where Respondent acted as the closing agent involved

property located at 16485 Collins Avenue #1136 Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. The

HUD-1 Statement reflects that Respondent was the settlement agent; Cliff Johnson

acted as purchaser; the seller was Jessica Borer; the settlement date was August 29,

2007; and the purchase price was $850,000.00.

T. In addition to this HUD-1 Statement, there is a second HUD-1 Statement

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with the same date, but this time Cliff Johnson acted as the seller for the same property

to a buyer identified as Roximar Duval. This HUD-1 Statement reflects that the sales

price was $998,000.00; the cash from borrower was $82,686.42; and the cash to seller

was $128,618.92.

U. Once again, there was no cash from borrower. It is Respondent’s

contention that the borrower did not bring cash to the closing, but the funds were

provided by seller as a loan to borrower from seller’s sale proceeds. The seller, Jessica

Borer had her existing mortgages satisfied, but did not receive anything further. It is

Respondent’s contention that Irina Ball (not listed in either of the two HUD-1

Statements) received $22,915.68 pursuant to a disbursement authorization and and that

the $17,233.07 received by Respondent was for fees . It should be noted that the lender

has recorded a Lis Pendens.

V. As of this date, Respondent has not provided all the required bank account

records. Accordingly, The Florida Bar has not been able to complete a full audit. The

records received from the banks and The Fund provide clear and convincing evidence

that Respondent has comingled funds by placing client funds in her operating and

personal account(s); and she has also improperly disbursed client funds or funds

designated to pay off mortgages or other obligations to sellers and/or third parties. It is

Respondent’s contention that these improper disbursements were done based on

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disbursement authorizations signed by parties to these real estate transactions.

W. Subsequently, The Fund became aware of improprieties that occurred in

closings where Respondent was the settlement agent. In or around November, 2007,

representatives of The Fund went to Respondent’s office and advised her that she could

conduct no further closings on behalf of The Fund and that she was suspended as an

agent of The Fund.

X. Thereafter, Respondent continued to conduct improper closings through

another agent of The Fund. Respondent failed to advise said agent of her suspension

from The Fund and did not advise The Fund that she was continuing to close

transactions through another agent.

Y. Respondent admits that by reason of the foregoing facts she has violated

rule 3-4.3 of the Rules of Discipline, rule 4-8.4(c) of the Rules of Professional

Conduct, and rules 5-1.1 and 5-1.2 of the Rules Regulating Trust Accounts.

III. RECOMMENDATION AS TO WHETHER RESPONDENT SHOULD BE

FOUND GUILTY OF MISCONDUCT JUSTIFYING DISCIPLINARY

MEASURES: The undersigned recommends that Respondent’s Consent Judgment be

approved by the Supreme Court of Florida as a final resolution of all matters

referenced herein. Accordingly, based upon the Consent Judgment, it is recommended

that Respondent be found guilty of violating all of the disciplinary rules set forth

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above.

IV. RECOMMENDATION AS TO DISCIPLINARY MEASURES TO BE

APPLIED: The undersigned recommends that Respondent’s Consent Judgment be

approved by the Supreme Court of Florida. Accordingly, the following disciplinary

measures are recommended:

A. Permanent Disbarment.

V. PERSONAL HISTORY AND PAST DISCIPLINARY RECORD:

Age: 33

Date Admitted to The Florida Bar: September 13, 2000

Prior disciplinary record: In The Florida Bar File No. 2009-70,328(11N-MES),


Supreme Court Case No. SC08-1977, Respondent was emergency suspended,
pursuant to Supreme Court Order dated October 29, 2008, for the same
underlying conduct as the current proceeding.

VI. STATEMENT OF COSTS AND RECOMMENDATION AS TO THE

MANNER IN WHICH COSTS SHOULD BE TAXED: I find that the following

costs were incurred by The Florida Bar in this proceeding:

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Administrative costs
Rule 3-7.6(q)(1)(I) ….……………. $ 1,250.00

Branch Auditors’ Costs …………… $ 43,560.75

Staff Investigators’ Costs …………. $ 977.38


Court Reporter’s attendance at
deposition of Maria T. Lopez held
on May 27, 2009, and transcript.…. $ 884.00

Court Reporter’s attendance at


deposition of Derrick Gruner held
on August 12, 2009, and transcript.…. $ 821.00

Court Reporter’s costs for copy of


deposition transcript of Barry Ted
Shevlin ……………………….………$ 126.65

Court Reporter’s costs for copy of


deposition transcript of Darlene
Fernandez Carus ………..……………$ 316.01

Court Reporter’s attendance at


deposition of Dana Kaufman held
on August 27, 2009, and transcript.…. $ 383.60

Court Reporter’s attendance at


final hearing held on August 31, 2009,
through September 2, 2009……………$ 750.00

Court Reporter’s costs for excerpt of


final hearing testimony on September 1,
2009…….…………………..…………$ 165.00

Invoice from Washington Mutual


Bank for records………………………$ 113.98

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Invoice from City National Bank of
Florida for records……………………$ 1,673.50

Invoice from Colonial Bank


for records…………………………….$ 132.00

Fedex/Kinkos costs…………………...$ 821.10


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TOTAL: $ 51,974.97

It is recommended that the foregoing costs be assessed against Respondent. It is

further recommended that execution issue with interest at the prevailing statutory rate

to accrue on all costs not paid within 30 days of entry of the Supreme Court's final

order.

Dated this ____ day of ________________ 2009.

___________________________________
HONORABLE MAYNARD A. GROSS
Referee

Copies furnished to:

Steven David Pinkert, Esq., Attorney for the Respondent


Calrie March, Esq., Attorney for the Respondent
William Mulligan, Bar Counsel
Kenneth L. Marvin, Staff Counsel

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