The family of longtime Ecuadorean political heavyweight Carlos Polit, who was sentenced at home for extorting bribes from a construction giant with a massive Miami footprint, is linked to at least three pricey South Florida properties purchased outright through secretive companies.
Public records show the properties, collectively bought for almost $7 million, are all in the name of Florida limited liability companies, or LLCs. The purchases were initially made in full, without a mortgage, which would require ownership disclosure.
But mortgages were later taken out on the properties, copies of which were obtained by McClatchy and the Miami Herald, and they bear the name of the politician’s son, John C. Polit, who was sentenced in Ecuador last year as an accomplice to his father’s extortion crimes. They were convicted for hiding money extorted from Odebrecht, a Brazilian engineering firm whose now admitted systemic bribery has rocked both Brazil and Ecuador.
Florida LLCs don’t require disclosure of true owners, and the ones linked to Polit properties have a rotating cast of directors and managing members, mostly people from Ecuador residing in Miami, that further confuse ownership in public records.
Carlos Polit’s name does not appear on any of these LLCs, but Ecuador’s longtime comptroller general fled to Miami in 2017 ahead of criminal charges. He was declared a fugitive by Ecuador in June 2017.
Politicians across the hemisphere have long sought refuge in Miami, and stashed fortunes here, too. The city’s history is one of geographic and cultural ties to Latin America and the Caribbean. And the local real estate market is fueled by money from the region and increasingly Russia and its environs.
The most recent example was ex-Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, who had lived in an $8 million waterfront estate in Coral Gables and was extradited last June to face corruption charges at home.
In early March, the Justice Department announced a task force to combat the use of illicit money flowing into Miami real estate, especially through cash purchases and shell companies at home and abroad that mask ownership. LLCs and offshore shell companies have legitimate business uses like keeping competitors in the dark on an acquisition but also can hide a bevy of illicit activity.
Efforts to reach the Polits for comment — through phone calls, contact with their associates and visits to their properties — in advance of publication were unsuccessful. After this article was published online, Fernando Tamayo, with the law firm Coffey Burlington, wrote: “The Polits unequivocally deny the use of any illicit monies in any investments, and any assertions to the contrary are patently false.”
The elder Polit — whose job it was to police the financial disclosures of politicians — was sentenced in Ecuador in absentia last June. Appearing on CNN from Miami last year, he denied the charges and said he was the victim of political score settling.
All the Miami real estate purchases linked to his family were initially so-called cash purchases. However, mortgage documents obtained by McClatchy and the Miami Herald show that the Ecuadorean politician’s Miami-based son, John, later was named on mortgages taken out on the three properties.
None of the Miami properties appeared in Ecuador’s prosecution efforts against the Polits, which focused on payments to and through shell companies in Panama. It is unclear if authorities there knew of the Florida properties.
Juan Carlos Sanchez, the deputy chief of mission at Ecuador’s embassy in Washington, confirmed that his nation has asked for the extradition of Carlos Polit. But he said there was no such request at the moment for John Polit, despite his conviction and three-year prison sentence. The diplomat could not explain how John Polit was able to come and go from Ecuador with the conviction, referring calls to the prosecutor’s office in Quito.
John Polit’s LinkedIn page said he works in real estate in Ecuador. But an Investment Adviser Public Disclosure form shows that Merrill Lynch in Miami listed him as an investment adviser representative from May 2012 until last April, months after the conviction was announced.
A more detailed Securities and Exchange Commission report asked if there were criminal charges or convictions against him, and the report filed last April said there were not — even though he and his father had been first charged in Ecuador over the summer of 2017.
Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation provided McClatchy a more comprehensive report that showed John Polit was terminated from his position with Merrill Lynch on April 20, 2018, for what’s called job abandonment. In the simplest terms, it means he stopped showing up for work, although when that started is unclear. Given his termination date, it appears to overlap with his legal troubles in Ecuador.
“He has not worked for the company since April of 2018,” confirmed Bill Halldin, a Bank of America spokesman who declined to discuss the specifics of the financial adviser’s job abandonment. Halldin also declined to discuss if Polit had declared outside business activities to his employer. There’s no evidence the bank knew of his legal troubles in Ecuador.
Two months after Merrill Lynch terminated the son, the Polits were ordered by Ecuador in June 2018 to make restitution of $40.4 million. Carlos was given a six-year prison sentence for extortion, twice the three-year sentence his son received as an accomplice. Prosecutors in Ecuador alleged that the elder Polit, while serving as his nation’s chief auditor, solicited a $10.1 million bribe from Odebrecht.
Ecuadorean Vice President Jorge Glas was removed from office and convicted in late 2017 in a separate Odebrecht prosecution. Odebrecht’s Miami office has not been implicated in the foreign misdeeds. Its U.S. website touts airport projects in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Orlando and high-rise condos and hotels in Miami Beach.
Since 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department has sought to thwart anonymous cash purchases of South Florida real estate. The agency grew concerned that money from mob activities, drug dealers and corrupt foreign officials was flooding into Miami’s sizzling real estate market.
“We really have no clue at all what foreign money is in the country. People assume that we know this, but we don’t. My argument is we should,” said Joshua Kirschenbaum, a former money-laundering investigator for the agency’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), who was not familiar with the Polit matter.
Treasury’s anti-money-laundering initiative focused largely on property purchases by offshore shell companies, but the Polit-linked properties underscore how Florida’s own LLCs help hide ownership. Separate from the three properties with mortgages, there are at least four properties with the same rotating managers and directors that appear linked to John Polit, who is in his late 30s.
A career politician now in his late 60s, Carlos Polit began in the military, and later worked in the national customs agency. In the early 2000s, he was presidential secretary to Ecuadorean President Lucio Gutierrez — sort of a chief of staff.
Confidential State Department cables published by the transparency group WikiLeaks show that Polit was a valuable State Department confidant and a conduit for the Bush administration to reach Ecuador’s president on matters of regional concern and Cuba.
Polit later became comptroller general, and in 2017 Ecuador began publishing some disclosure information about the wealth of politicians in a country long synonymous with chronic corruption and coups.
Although records show Polit filed private disclosures dating back to 2003, the only public record is for 2017 and it lists declared assets of about $1.7 million and debts of $966,000. The document makes no distinction about whether the assets are in Ecuador or abroad. Two spokespersons in the Ecuador prosecutor’s office — Robert Carrera and Fatima Perez — did not answer repeated calls and emails.
Who Owns What
Carlos Polit does not appear anywhere in Miami-Dade County property records or Florida incorporation documents. Most of the managing members and directors of the Florida LLCs are Facebook friends with John Polit, and with each other. In some cases, social media accounts helped spotlight connections that weren’t obvious in searches of corporate records.
Three properties purchased outright bear the younger Polit’s signature on subsequent mortgage documents. They are:
▪ 8112 Los Pinos Circle: This luxurious $3.4 million mansion in Coral Gables was purchased outright in February 2016. The company that bought the mansion — 8112 Los Pinos Cir, LLC — listed the younger Polit’s Facebook friend Adrian Sanchez, a Miami real estate broker, as a manager of the LLC.
Weeks before the Polits were formally charged in January 2018 with extortion in Ecuador, John Polit took out a $1.7 million mortgage for the Los Pinos property on Dec. 29, 2017. It is located in the swank Cocoplum development, and the lender was City National Bank of Florida.
Polit signed the mortgage document as the sole member of 8112 Los Pinos Cir, LLC, yet in the publicly available Florida incorporation records he is nowhere to be found on any public document that lists him as a director, manager or registered agent.
The first registered agent for the LLC, who quickly became its managing member, was David Carrion-Levy. He’s a Miami Realtor whose online bio describes him as originally from the business capital of Guayaquil, Ecuador, and whose family is involved in international property development. Carrion-Levy has listed the property for the Realtor Sotheby’s. But when reached by phone, Carrion-Levy did not offer an explanation about why he is on the corporate documents or about his relationship with his Facebook friend John Polit.
“I don’t remember any of this, no,” he said before hanging up.
In 2017, Adrian Sanchez became the business agent for and managing member of 8112 Los Pinos Cir, LLC, a designation he maintained in the most recent filings last year.
Reached by McClatchy, Sanchez said, “I have worked with John on real estate deals in the past. Our relationship has been that of broker/client. For that reason, I do not feel comfortable discussing anything but I welcome you to review all public records that may be readily available on those transactions.”
▪ 1830 Coral Way: This small office building near downtown Miami was purchased outright for $1.8 million in 2013, but in March 2017 the company 1830 Coral Way LLC took out a $1.6 million mortgage for the property. Adrian Sanchez was listed as the registered agent for the LLC during its incorporation in September 2013, and listed a business address of 1820 SW Third Ave., the adjacent building that houses a dry cleaner and is linked to Polit. Miami-Dade County tax records show a John C. Pilot, an apparent misspelling, making payments from 2015 to 2019 on behalf of Klinit Unlimited LLC. McClatchy visited the building. The employees there knew him and said they would pass on a business card.
The mortgage for 1830 Coral Way also came from City National Bank, one of Florida’s largest lenders. Although the mortgage was to 1830 Coral Way LLC, the guarantor on the document was John C. Polit. It means he was a co-signer who was on the hook for the big mortgage if the anonymous LLC didn’t make good on its loan.
One of 1830 Coral Way LLC’s managing members is Jose Luis Ycaza, who in addition to this one is on two other Florida LLCs. Those two do not list the Polits but have directors found on other Polit-linked properties.
Ycaza’s LinkedIn page describes him as a Miami-based financial consultant who since May 2018 has had his own management company and from April 2014 to present has worked for the branch office of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, listing its Brickell high-rise address. Spokesman Halldin said Ycaza was a client associate, a low-level position, from 2014 to 2015 but hasn’t worked for the company since.
But Ycaza has a larger fame in Ecuador. He was president of the board of directors of Ecuador’s central bank from 2000 to 2002. In that time frame, he led the country’s move to abandon its currency — the sucre — and officially adopt the U.S. dollar. He later joined the board of directors of Coca-Cola’s operations in Ecuador.
On the final page of the mortgage document, the LLC’s manager, Federico Gomez, signed off on the mortgage. On the original incorporation documents, a Frederico Gomez is listed as a manager, and Adrian Sanchez is the agent receiving paperwork for the company. Gomez is Facebook friends with Polit and Sanchez, and Gomez’s Facebook page shows that he did his university studies in Guayaquil.
The most recent filings with the Florida Division of Corporations show Quintessa Enterprises is now the managing member of 1830 Coral Way LLC.
But Quintessa itself is a Delaware shell company, and franchise tax records there obtained by McClatchy and the Herald show Ycaza as its founder and manager, listing the same Miami mailing address as the Florida LLC.
Quintessa’s original business address at the time of creation in March 2016 was another building thought to be linked to the Polits, 1900 SW 22nd St. — or Coral Way.
McClatchy went to Ycaza’s large office in that building, and later waited for him in the lobby. He fled up the stairs when approached but stopped and talked briefly.
“It’s a legal matter, it’s being litigated so I can’t give you an interview,” he said, not saying whether the litigation was in the United States or Ecuador, or about what.
Later by phone, he said he could not discuss client business in declining to say whether he owned the buildings or businesses for which he or Quintessa appear. Ycaza confirmed he no longer works for Merrill Lynch, despite his LinkedIn profile saying otherwise.
▪ 1902 SW 22nd St.: The small office building near downtown Miami was purchased outright in June 2016 for $2.67 million. But on Dec. 7, 2016, a $1.5 million mortgage was recorded for the property by 1900 Office Building LLC. The lender, as was the case with the other loans, was City National Bank, and John Polit appears as the guarantor, meaning he’s on the hook if the LLC defaults. The LLC was created a month before the purchase, on May 16, 2016. Guarantors aren’t officially the buyer.
Tamara Devos was the first manager for this LLC and also signed the mortgage document. Her social media profiles connect her to Polit and show that she is the daughter of a Belgian national who for decades worked as a diamond mining executive in Venezuela and other developing nations.
Devos has a desk in Ycaza’s office in this building, and renters in a West Brickell property for which Polit-connected Ecuadoreans appear on the LLC documents said they send their rent checks to Devos.
“I am not an owner,” Ycaza said of the building from where he works, and described himself as a financial consultant with clients in Europe and globally. He said he is not a business partner of the Polits, but also said he had known John since the son was knee-high.
Among the properties that appear tied to the Polit family by virtue of the shared directors and managers is a large airport-area warehouse at 4101 NW 77th Ave., which includes a showroom for marble and other building supplies and features a grand piano.
The property belongs to Arhus Real Estate LLC, whose first manager was Gustavo Chavez, who appears on documents for at least two Polit-linked properties. The most recent corporate documents show Quintessa Enterprises Inc., the company associated with Ycaza, as its manager.
When McClatchy visited the airport warehouse, there inside was Benjamin Rosen, a director of another Polit-linked company, 191 SW 12th St. LLC, which owns a small apartment building surrounded by new West Brickell high-rises.
“I am not going to comment on any of that,” Rosen said when asked about who owns the warehouse and other Florida LLCs. He took a business card and said he’d share it with the younger Polit.
This article has been updated to include a statement provided by the law firm representing the Polits, which was provided after the story was published online. It has also been updated to correct the spelling of the law firm Coffey Burlington.