Developer of The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe awarded $1 billion judgment


By Joe Tash

A Florida jury has awarded a $1 billion judgment to Lennar Corp., developer of The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe, following a civil trial alleging defamation and conspiracy to extort money by the company’s former business partner, Nicholas Marsch III of La Jolla.

The verdict was handed down after a one-day trial to determine the amount of damages to be awarded to Miami-based Lennar Corp.

The lawsuit alleged a conspiracy between Marsch and Barry Minkow to defame Lennar and drive down its stock price. Minkow, who went to prison in the late 1980s in a celebrated fraud case, was convicted again in 2011 in connection with the case involving Lennar, and sentenced to five years in federal prison. In between his two convictions, he served as head pastor of a San Diego church.

The jury awarded Lennar $802 million in compensatory damages, and $200 million in punitive damages against Marsch and his company, Briarwood Capital LLC, according to a court document. The verdict was announced on Monday, Dec. 2.

“While collecting the award is doubtful, the true value of the verdict is the validation of our integrity, credibility and transparency, which have always been cornerstones of our foundation,” said Stuart Miller, Lennar’s CEO, in a statement issued by the company. “The jury award represents a complete vindication of Lennar’s reputation and good name.”

Over the past seven years, Marsch and Lennar have battled in a series of lawsuits over their business dealings, which included the development of the Bridges community.

Marsch didn’t attend the one-day trial. He told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that he stood by his allegations against Lennar, saying, “We will review our options.”

In an interview with the La Jolla Light in May, Marsch’s wife, Pat, said the couple formerly lived in Rancho Santa Fe, but moved south to La Jolla after their son began attending The Bishop’s School in the La Jolla Village.

The Bridges is a master-planned community in Rancho Santa Fe with 240 home lots, north of the Rancho Santa Fe Village off Aliso Canyon Road. Ground was broken on the first home in 1998, and the 18-hole golf course, with its two signature tall bridges, opened in 1999. U-T San Diego said Marsch was one of the original Bridges residents, “having moved into a $4 million, 9,100-square-foot house on Via Candela, complete with a custom library and built-in entertainment center.”