Judge invalidates bogus claims in Florida building collapse

Aug 24, 2022, 2:54 PM | Updated: 3:14 pm
FILE - The damaged remaining structure at the Champlain Towers South condo building collapses in a ...

FILE - The damaged remaining structure at the Champlain Towers South condo building collapses in a controlled demolition, July 4, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Hundreds of bogus claims that sought a share of the $1.1 billion settlement in the deadly collapse of the Florida condominium building were ruled as fraudulent and invalid by a judge on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

Hundreds of bogus claims that sought a share of the $1.1 billion settlement in the deadly collapse of a Florida condominium building were ruled as fraudulent and invalid by a judge Wednesday.

More than 450 presumably false claims, most seeking about $50,000, were filed in the court settlement arising from the June 2021 collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in which 98 people died.

These claims “have no connection whatsoever” to the tragedy and appear to be “claims seeking to wrongfully capitalize on this tragedy at the expense of the true victims,” court-appointed receiver Michael Goldberg said in court documents.

During a brief hearing Wednesday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said none of the bogus claimants showed up to provide evidence under oath so their claims will be struck from the list of settlement beneficiaries.

“They had to submit the necessary documentation and they had to show up at the hearing,” the judge said.

The 457 false claims — out of 741 total — arrived mostly from western states, especially California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado, Goldberg said. They seem to be affiliated with a website called “hustlermoneyblog.com” that he said shows people how to file for damages in certain class-action settlements without providing proof.

The shaky claims from people insisting they were at the building and injured when it fell or owned units that suffered costly property losses were easily disproved with government records, first responder accounts and court documents, Goldberg said.

The apparent scammers could have been subjected to perjury charges based on submission of fraudulent claim forms, Goldberg added. There was no sign of a link to the Champlain Towers South settlement Wednesday on the website, which mostly contained information about credit card and bank account bonuses.

The $1.1 billion settlement fund for families of the victims who died and those who lost their units and property was approved by the judge in June.

The money comes from 37 sources, including insurance companies, engineering firms and a luxury condominium building whose recent construction next door is suspected of contributing to structural damage of Champlain Towers South. None of the parties admit any wrongdoing.

A billionaire developer from Dubai purchased the 1.8-acre (1-hectare) beachside site for $120 million, contributing to the settlement.

Champlain Towers South had a history of maintenance problems, and questions have been raised about the quality of its original construction and inspections in the early 1980s. Other possible factors in the collapse are sea level rise caused by climate change, which could cause damage from saltwater intrusion.

A final conclusion on the cause is likely years away. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is overseeing the investigation.

Another hearing is set next week on how to divide up attorney fees and costs from the settlement. Estimates are the fees would reach about $100 million combined.

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Judge invalidates bogus claims in Florida building collapse