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Attorney Brian Barakat of Barakat Law. Courtesy photo
A Broward jury awarded more than $1.8 million to a foreign investor who found himself swept up in a property con job.
Serhan Unsal, a Turkish textile factory owner and investor, brought a civil theft suit against defendants Taner Gokalp and Ertugrul Meric. The jury awarded him treble damages, returning a verdict for $1.812 million.
According to an amended complaint filed in the civil division of Broward County Circuit Court, Unsal, who was looking to get a foothold in the South Florida real estate market, was defrauded of hundreds of thousands of dollars by Gokalp and Meric while purchasing Broward County properties in 2013.
Click here to read the judgment against Gokalp and Meric
Meric had previously worked for Unsal and approached his former employer in 2012, proposing they work together to invest in the South Florida real estate market.
According to Unsal’s attorney, Coral Gables-based litigator Brian Barakat, Meric touted an earlier stint residing in South Florida, in order to convince the investor to work with him.
“[Meric] claimed that as a result of the real estate crash, he knew how to get properties under market value,” said Barakat, founding partner at Barakat Law.
But Barakat said that unbeknownst to his client, Meric and Gokalp were working together.
The suit alleges Meric collaborated with Gokalp to tack on thousands of dollars to the asking price to overcharge Unsal on the properties they presented. The defendants allegedly pretended that the numbers they quoted were listing prices. The two men then allegedly split the earnings of their scheme.
“That’s the shill. You bring somebody in and gain their confidence by doing a good, solid transaction. [Meric and Gokalp] found two properties and presented them both to Mr. Unsal at inflated prices,” Barakat said. “[They] said they were good deals, had been fully inspected. Once they had that confidence they started to profit for themselves.”
Defense counsel Mark A. Levy of Fort Lauderdale-based Brinkley Morgan blamed Meric. He told the Daily Business Review that his client, Gokalp, is “being unfairly held responsible for the wrongs of the true bad actor, Ertugrul Meric.”
“My clients were very disappointed in the result,” Levy said. “We anticipate appealing a number of issues.”
The suit accuses the defendants of directing Unsal to send money to be held in escrow, but instead held the funds in dummy corporations used by Gokalp to both conceal his identity and hoard his allegedly ill-gotten gains. It also alleges that the defendants misled Unsal on whether the properties had tenants, leaving Unsal under the false impression that the buildings were vacant. They then allegedly pocketed the rental income they collected from these tenants.
Barakat claimed Unsal was defrauded of nearly $300,000 from two properties and was deprived of another $167,000 on three subsequent real estate purchases.
The plaintiff allegedly discovered Gokalp and Meric’s conspiracy after conducting an audit of his real estate holdings in late 2013 only to discover several inconsistencies, including that properties he believed he had purchased were not under his name. Rather, he found the sites belonged to Samtrac Corp. and Arthur & Sanders, companies that the complaint links to Gokalp and Meric.
After a trial in April, the jury returned a verdict in Unsal’s favor in May.
“During the trial we presented evidence of all five transactions. I was pretty upfront with the jury that although I thought the defendants were liable for all five, we were only asking for [a verdict] covering the first two. The jury was so incensed by the blatant fraud they ordered us everything,” Barakat says. “And because it’s a civil theft case, everything was tripled.”
Read ruling against Gokalp and Meric here:
Read Unsal’s amended complaint: