Celeb Real Estate Broker Goes Broke: Rise and Fall of Carlos Justo

By every measure it worked very well … for a while. But today, Justo is scrambling to keep his business alive and his head above water as bankruptcy court looms and 12 lawsuits threaten to sink him.

"Here's what happened with me," he said. "My business is selling real estate and [when] I decided to become an investor, that was really my downfall."

He admits he was initially overwhelmed by that downfall, and for a fleeting moment he even considered suicide. Instead, he decided to confront his demons and clean up the mess he made by declaring personal bankruptcy, and then try to rebuild.

America's Richest Village

Sitting crossed-legged in the back seat of his Land Rover -- no seat belt for this fast-talking entrepreneur -- Justo punched away at his BlackBerry as he barked commands to his driver, Miki, a protégé who dreams of making it rich like his boss did.

Justo insists he needs a driver because he's so erratic behind the wheel, but it's clear he likes this perk and he'll hold onto it as long as he can.

Miki steered the vehicle toward a gated bridge off North Miami Beach -- the entrance to Indian Creek Village, one of the most exclusive addresses in America, sometimes called Billionaires' Row. It is a 300-acre island in Biscayne Bay with just 32 homes, its own golf course, and a police force of 14.

Carl Icahn lives here, so does Julio Iglesias, so does Don Shula.

In Indian Creek, a starter home goes for $10 million.

Justo's destination was a relatively modest pink house sitting in a sea of flowers and grass on a two-acre lot. Anne McDougal has wintered here since 1972. She bought the house for less than $200,000 back then. Today she's looking for $11 million for it. It's her third home, and she'd like to simplify her life.

Justo had an offer to present, but McDougal cut him off.

"You know I am interested only in money," she said.

"Let me give you the basic numbers," Justo said. "Two million dollars now, and then they would lease the home for up to five years."

It's a convoluted lease-buy deal. Justo insists creative deals like this are necessary to move houses in a down market, but McDougal wasn't interested. And it didn't dampen her enthusiasm for Justo.

"He is a fabulous, fabulous person," she said. "And he brings an excitement wherever he goes, and he is inspiring that way."

And although Justo is dealing with his own personal bankruptcy and massive debt, McDougal still believes in him.

"His personality is the same, and my feeling is that he will probably be back in a great position again," she said. "This is his excitement."

Millionaires and Buddhist Monks

The vista from Justo's soon-to-be-repossessed penthouse on Miami's Brickell Avenue is spectacular. There's a clear view of the ocean in three directions. The morning sunrise beams through the two-story living room.

The sound that comes from the living room is unlike anything found in other homes in Miami. There is a rhythmic chanting and a series of soothing hums.

This unorthodox real estate agent has opened his crumbling empire to half a dozen Buddhist monks who are spending a month in Miami as they tour the world. Justo says he's not Buddhist, but insists he learns from their serenity.

"No matter what it is, they are so fulfilled and satisfied with nothing," he said as he prepared to meditate with them. But he added that he couldn't abandon his life's work to become a monk. "I'm going to continue to sell real estate because I love what I do."

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...