Father and son real-estate developers, 2 others, charged with racketeering, extortion, FDLE says

A father and son duo in business together are accused of a multi-million dollar, 10-plus year extortion campaign.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Four South Florida men appeared in court Thursday, including a father and son, charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, organized scheme to defraud, and multiple counts of extortion.

Real estate developers, father and son, Bruce Chait, 72, of Fort Lauderdale, and Shawn Chait, 47, of Boca Raton, were the alleged masterminds amid allegations of a scheme that stretched over a decade. However, it took the Florida Department of Law Enforcement only six weeks to compile enough evidence to make the arrests, they said.

The case alleges that they blackmailed a well-known real estate developer, threatening him with lawsuits, false information campaigns and smears against his reputation and his business.

FDLE said that the Chaits and their co-conspirators, Harris Neil Shapiro, 33, of Margate, and John James Colonel, 33, of Fort Lauderdale, threatened and extorted the victim over property acquired after the Chaits defaulted on a loan in 2010. They are accused of falsely claiming there were dangerous levels of soil contamination on a property the victim acquired after Chaits defaulted on the loan.

“It’s definitely shown that these two additional associates, or defendants in this case now, were specifically put in place by the Chaits for the mere reason to further extort and threaten the victim,” FDLE Special Agent Monica Baldo said.

On Thursday, a judge in Broward County gave all four men bonds of more than $1 million. Bond for the Chaits were at over $10 million each.

Their attorney, J. David Bogenschutz, called the judge’s decision “draconian.”

“I was obviously not present when the judge was convinced to put a $10.5 million bond on two individuals who have that kind of background and have lived here their entire life. I would suggest that $10.5 million is, at best, draconian. “There are drug dealers walking around out here who do 3 or 400 kilos of cocaine that don’t get close to that. Homicide defendants don’t get close to that. This is a financial crime.”

But Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said that the bond was warranted.

“This is not just a financial case,” Moody said. “The Chaits lost the property and, according to Bruce Chait in . . . recent recordings within the last two months. . . wanted to destroy these victims’ financially and their reputation ever since that transaction 10 years ago.”

In recordings, the Chaits admitted that they were behind the lawsuits and that the soil contamination claims were solely for the purpose of getting the victim to pay. The Chaits demanded more than $3 million from the victim to make the lawsuits and harassment “go away.”

Additionally, they sent multiple anonymous letters to county officials including to Broward County Environmental employees with similar fraudulent claims about the property, according to FDLE.

Shapiro and Colonel are accused of acting as pawns for the Chaits, filing lawsuits against the victim. In turn, the Chaits would use the lawsuits as leverage.

“These defendants, some of whom are convicted felons, attempted to extort millions from a Florida developer — continuously harassing and threatening him into paying. . . Their scheme is exposed and they will face justice,” Moody said.

A statement released by the victim said:

“The leadership of 13th Floor Homes was recently targeted by what it believes to be an illegal attempt aimed at derailing our firm’s development plans in Broward County and undermining our company’s reputation. Once the perpetrators’ intentions became clear, our team took action by alerting the appropriate authorities and cooperating with an investigation led by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of Statewide Prosecution. FDLE and the Office of Statewide Prosecution acted in a swift, thorough, and professional manner. We expect that the perpetrators will be held accountable. 13th Floor has spent the past 15 years cultivating a successful track record of development in South Florida, and we will fervently challenge any attempt to tarnish our credibility.”

The Chaits have had issues in the past. In the late 2000s, the Chaits owned Prestige Homes of South Florida and were accused of bribing local officials to let them develop and build more than 700 homes on two golf courses in Tamarac. They eventually took plea deals and worked with the state, testifying against other people.

About the Authors:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true-crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local 10.com.