PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – A civil RICO suit was filed on Friday against former "Flip This House" star Armando Montelongo.
The suit was filed in California by San Francisco-based Emergent Legal and accuses Montelongo, his companies and his allies of racketeering and wire fraud.
There are 164 plaintiffs, 10 from Florida, seeking more than $12 million in damages.
Calling his pitched system for flipping homes a "lie," the suit says, "The defendants' scheme has destroyed livelihoods, wrecked marriages, driven students into clinical depression and even resulted in suicide."
"The real estate mogul's educational offerings -- which cost up to tens of thousands of dollars, and which are attended by thousands of students every year, do not live up to the central claim that the Montelongo 'system works in any financial market, at any given time,' and are instead the heart of a fraudulent scheme to sell students worthless 'education,'" Emergent stated on the company's website. "In what appears to be the first major lawsuit brought against the defendants over their seminars, the students seek over $12 million in trebled RICO damages."
In an email to "Call Christina," Chris Wimmer, the attorney who filed the suit said, "The students' stories are heartbreaking. Many went deep into credit card debt or liquidated retirement funds to buy the Montelongo courses, which often wound up costing them as much as a college education."
You may remember investigative reporter Christina Vazquez’s investigation into the Armando Montelongo seminars started with a call into the Call Christina hotline.
The complaint by Local 10 News viewer Rafael Mendoza was echoed by people all across the country.
The Call Christina team was able to secure Mendoza a refund.
Meantime, the Call Christina team just recently received yet another complaint about Montelongo seminars. The viewer is complaining of bait and switch tactics. That complaint is currently under review.
Full statement by the Armando Montelongo Company:
"First and foremost, this is a civil lawsuit and the facts of the case will become clear as we present them.
The Armando Montelongo system is and has always been about working at following a system.
Unfortunately there is a small group of people, 164 out of more than 1.5 million people who have come through the Armando Montelongo Companies, that have decided that continuous hard work is not for them.
Now, they have chosen to try and make money the easy way by clogging up our legal system with a frivolous lawsuit.
We have compelling evidence that many of these complainants have successfully completed real estate deals since learning our system. In fact, many of them have now gone on to open competitive real estate investment companies.
The Armando Montelongo Companies will be filing a counter lawsuit against them and looks forward to the battle of bringing these individuals to justice."
Local 10 News has also reached out to the Texas Attorney General's Office to get an update on their on-going investigation into complaints filed with the state agency about San Antonio-based Armando Montelongo Seminars, LLC.
IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY IS:
Local 10 News sent a copy of the suit to former state and federal prosecutor David Weinstein for his take.
"The Civil RICO case filed by the 164 victims also sets out the elements of a criminal prosecution, if a prosecutor’s office could prove criminal intent beyond the civil frauds alleged in the lawsuit.
In a civil case, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. This is a lower standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt used in criminal cases.
To prove criminal intent, they would have to show that a defendant knowingly committed the RICO offense or knowingly and willfully participated in the RICO conspiracy.
In the criminal law context, "knowingly" means that an act was done voluntarily and intentionally and not because of a mistake or by accident.
"Willfully" means that the act was done voluntarily and purposely with the specific intent to violate a known legal duty, that is, with the intent to do something the law forbids.
If the victims' sole desire is to get their lost investment back, then this civil lawsuit is the good vehicle for them to do that.