Express News Post: Banker Surrenders Property
A Mexican banker accused of stealing tens of millions of dollars from his depositors has agreed to turn over 19 pieces of Bexar County real estate, as well as dozens of other properties in Florida and Spain, as part of a court settlement.
The deal marks a rare victory for Mexican creditors and alleged victims of fraud who were able to recoup losses in that country by using U.S. racketeering laws, said Javier Navarro Velasco, a lawyer appointed by Mexico’s government to recover the lost funds.
The properties will be sold, and the proceeds, minus legal fees, will be returned to depositors who lost their money in Mexico.
“I think this was something very important for the creditors,” Navarro said. “This is a historic case for Mexico because it’s the first time funds lost in a bankruptcy have been recovered in the United States.”
Navarro said he couldn’t offer an estimate of the total value of the properties turned over in the settlement.
The Bexar County properties, mostly homes in gated communities on the North Side, are part of a real estate empire that Rafael Olvera Amezcua built while his savings and loan in Mexico collapsed. A 2015 investigation by the San Antonio Express-News found that Olvera, whose savings and loan Ficrea was taken over by the Mexican government in 2014 and is being liquidated, was connected to about 50 companies that own more than 150 pieces of real estate.
The next year, Navarro, who’s overseeing the liquidation of Ficrea’s assets, filed a lawsuit in Miami asking a judge to turn over Olvera’s real estate holdings.
Olvera, who’s currently in an immigration detention center in Pearsall, has not admitted wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
Still, he’s turning over more than 80 houses, condos, townhouses, lots and office units in Spain and the U.S., most of them in Florida. He’ll also give up nine automobiles, including a 1983 Aston Mini Cooper, a 1990 Ferrari Testarossa, a 1970 Fiat 500 and a 2014 Maserati Quattroporte.
Navarro said Olvera will also have to turn over Spanish bank accounts worth about 1 million euros.
A property manager for Olvera testified in June that he owns more than 150 pieces of property. But for the purposes of the settlement, Navarro said, some of those tracts were consolidated into a single piece of property. Olvera will be left with five or six houses, he said.
“He’s left with very few properties, his residences,” Navarro said.
Juan Martinez, a Miami lawyer representing Olvera, wouldn’t say how many properties his client kept.
“The Olveras made a business decision to resolve their issues with the trustee, and they have,” Martinez said. “They’re turning over some properties, they’re keeping some stuff. I’m not going to get into the details of that. All I can say is they’re delighted these issues are resolved and they’re moving on.”
From the time he purchased Ficrea until 2014, Olvera transferred more than $70 million of depositors’ money from Mexico to the U.S., and 18.5 million euros, worth nearly $20 million today, to Spain, according to the lawsuit. He used the money to buy the properties and 53 cars, the lawsuit alleged. He also used the money to obtain an investor visa in the U.S., according to the lawsuit.
Mexico’s banking commission said at the time that Ficrea depositors lost 2.7 billion pesos, about $138 million today. Mexican authorities recovered real estate, yachts and vehicles in that country, according to the lawsuit.
“However, while substantial, the recovered assets are significantly less than the total amounts owed to Ficrea,” the lawsuit said.
Among the ways Navarro alleges that Olvera defrauded Ficrea: filing fraudulent invoices, creating fictitious loans that went to his companies and siphoning off interest intended for depositors.
Olvera faces criminal charges in Mexico as well, Navarro said. A spokesman for the Mexican federal prosecutor’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials would not say when or where Olvera was arrested or why he’s in detention. He does not face charges in the U.S.
Jaime Peña, a McAllen lawyer with experience pursuing racketeering claims for Mexican clients, said it’s not unusual for a foreign plaintiff to win a U.S. lawsuit like this when the defendant lives here.
That the defendants turned over property in Spain is unusual, Peña said, but he noted that Olvera relinquished the real estate and bank accounts as part of a settlement, not because of a ruling by a judge.
“If this had been a … judgment by a U.S. court for enforcement over assets outside the United States, then it would be historical,” he said. “But if it’s the result of a settlement, it’s hard to gauge if it’s historic without knowing the various variables and incentives into entering into a settlement.”
The lawsuit alleged that Olvera’s wife, son and daughter-in-law had been involved in the scheme. The Olveras ran their real estate empire out of an office tower in Miami, a luxury townhouse in a gated community in nearby Aventura, Fla., and an office suite on Paesanos Parkway on the North Side. The family members are part of the settlement as well.
That Olvera is in detention may have played into his decision to settle, Peña said.
“Being in ICE lockup is definitely one of the variables that I think could influence somebody to just settle the case and give up properties, not because of the merits of the underlying civil case in U.S. courts, but just because he has to relieve the pressure he’s taking personally.”