Michael Stern, a controversial one-time Miami Beach developer, was arrested Friday on federal wire fraud charges for allegedly helping swindle NFL star Dwight Freeney in a California restaurant deal, records show.
Stern — who once acted as an undercover informant to expose payoffs to Miami Beach building officials — was charged along with Freeney’s Los Angeles business manager, Eva Weinberg. They are accused of siphoning money from Freeney’s accounts and sending it to a dummy account that Stern tapped to pay for his personal expenses, records show.
Stern, 51, was charged with taking $68,000 from Freeney, a defensive lineman with the Indianapolis Colts. But investigators suspect the scheme netted $2.2 million before last week’s arrests, court records show.
In recorded phone conversations, Stern told an undercover informant that he and Weinberg planned to flee the United States to the Bahamas, Trinidad or Israel before their scheme was revealed, according to an FBI affidavit. Stern is also accused of using the alias “Michael Millar” in meetings with Freeney.
Prosecutors on Wednesday will ask a judge to order Stern to be extradited from Miami to California to face trial, a move Stern’s Miami lawyer, Henry Bell, opposes.
“He’s innocent until proven guilty, and we intend to litigate this,” Bell said.
According to the FBI affidavit, Weinberg introduced Freeney to Stern, who offered to help with a business dispute involving a Los Angeles restaurant venture. In a lawsuit, other partners in the restaurant deal said “Millar” masqueraded as a wealthy investor with a private jet and Caribbean homes in order to lure other investors into the restaurant deal.
Weinberg is described as Stern’s one-time live-in girlfriend in court papers.
Last fall, Freeney discovered some $2 million in unapproved wire transfers from his restaurant-investment account to a company called Arm’s Reach Consulting, the affidavit says. Investigators learned that Stern later made withdrawals from the Arm’s Reach account, as did Stern’s ex-wife and other Miami Beach associates, court records show.
On March 17, Stern told an FBI informant that he planned to use Freeney’s money to buy a private plane, according to the FBI affidavit. Stern later asked the informant to fly to Los Angeles and destroy the hard drive on Stern’s computer there to erase evidence of the scheme, the records show.
The informant also told investigators that Stern had intercepted a $50,000 check from the Colts to Freeney, and that Stern tried to cash the check at a Miami check-cashing store last Thursday.
Stern was once an active real-estate developer on Miami Beach, best known for his attempt to knock down a historic coral rock house on Collins Avenue. But his business collapsed under more than $50 million in outstanding loans, and he filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
Stern also faced multiple lawsuits from former partners and investors who accused him of using forged documents to defraud them, court records show. Stern denied any wrongdoing, and he was never criminally charged in those cases.
In 2007, Stern agreed to help state prosecutors investigate a web of payoffs of building and planning officials at Miami Beach City Hall. Stern wore an undercover camera to tape his conversations with building officials, and said he paid a bribe to one city worker by placing cash in a toilet paper roll in a City Hall bathroom.