A sleek blue-and-white yacht worth $1 million has been moved from a dock on the Miami River to a marina in Aventura, but a legal dispute over the actual owner of the Italian-made vessel is still up in the air.
A Miami federal judge weighed in on the fate of “The Round” Friday, saying he would likely not dismiss a lawsuit over the ownership issue and for now would allow a Hialeah business that currently possesses the boat to keep it.
“Everyone has an interest in keeping this $1 million boat in good shape,” U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno said.
He declared that the fight over its ownership is a “mess” and suggested federal authorities might even want to intervene at some point to seize the 98-foot vessel.
The legal battle erupted in April when two wealthy Venezuelan brothers, Luis and Ignacio Oberto, said they bought the twin-engine Leonardo II for $2 million and brought it to South Florida, where they claimed it was stolen in March from a dock in North Miami Beach.
But the Obertos’ civil claim of ownership might be disrupted by a federal criminal investigation into their past. The brothers, who until recently were living in a pair of Miami Beach waterfront condos, are under investigation for alleged corruption and money laundering activities extending from Venezuela to Switzerland to South Florida. If the brothers are charged, the U.S. Attorney’s Office might move to seize the vessel, Moreno suggested during Friday’s hearing.
In the lawsuit, the brothers say they bought the super-yacht in 2013 and had it transported to Palm Beach later that year. The brothers asset they obtained a “certificate of British registry” from the Cayman Islands verifying that their Panamanian company, Violet Advisors, owned the yacht and held the title. In 2019, they moved the vessel to a residence on the water in North Miami Beach, where it remained docked until March, when it went missing and ended up docked in front of an apartment building along the Miami River near the 12th Avenue Bridge. This summer, the boat was moved again to an Aventura marina at 173rd Street and Biscayne Boulevard.
The Obertos’ suit names both the yacht itself and several defendants, including Alberto Alcivar, president of Excellent Auto Group, a Hialeah company that says it acquired rightful ownership of the vessel. Court records suggest that Excellent Auto Group bought the yacht with a pair of blown engines for $200,000 from Violet Advisors in 2015, but the Oberto brothers said the bill of sale was fabricated.
Their suit asserts that the “defendants gained possession and control of the yacht under false pretenses with fraudulent ownership documentation and acted in concert with one another to convert the yacht for their unlawful purposes.”
On Friday, Moreno rejected a request by the Oberto brothers’ lawyer, Bryan Busch, to allow a third party to take possession of the yacht until the ownership issue is resolved. But during the hearing, the judge asked Busch about the suit’s allegation of fraudulent paperwork. “I think there was fraud,” Busch told the judge.
Excellent Auto Group’s defense attorney, William Norris, acknowledged the allegation and said that he was trying to obtain a copy of the yacht’s title from the state of Florida showing his client owned the boat.
The Oberto brothers, scions of a wealthy banking family in Venezuela, assert that they never sold the boat or authorized anyone else to do so.
At the end of Friday’s hearing, Moreno asked the Obertos’ lawyer if he was “missing” something in this case, and Busch acknowledged that the brothers were under investigation by federal prosecutors in Miami.
Moreno then asked the brothers’ lawyer, Busch, if the Obertos would be available to testify if their yacht case goes to trial next year.
“They will most definitely be witnesses in this case,” Busch said.
“They’re here in Miami?” Moreno asked.
“They are here in Miami,” Busch responded.
According to federal authorities, however, both Oberto brothers left Miami this summer to visit the Dominican Republic and possibly other countries. They have not returned to South Florida and it’s not clear if they plan to come back, authorities said.